Agonistic pluralism is perhaps the most important political concept I’ve learned in the last ten years. It holds that all liberal-democratic political positions are uneasy bundles of internally contradicting principles (or, more accurately, heuristics) which will, inevitably, be interpreted differently by different people at different times, and which therefore must be resolved through a flexible process of reasoned deliberation and inquiry.
My own belief is that an individual is defined as much as anything by peculiar configurations of judgment which are irreducibly hermeneutic (interpretive) and not direct applications of algorithmic rules to empirical data. Where we seek to eliminate judgment, we seek to eliminate individuality and abandon the domain of liberalism.
Where a person believes his or her own beliefs to be purely logical and empirical (omitting the role of interpretation not only in conception, but to the unconscious selective and prioritizing actions of perception) and to be the correct understanding of the truth (omitting the crucially important dimension of pluralism, which abolishes the rule of the excluded middle from all domains but that of formal logic).
We must expect conflict. We must expect to discover some degree of validity in opposing viewpoints, even when our own correctness is self-evident. We must interpret our own no-brainer truths as brain-deficient notions. We must be profoundly suspicious of our own convictions, most of all when they are open-shut. We must be severe and follow our angst when our hearts want to follow our bliss. We must follow this road less traveled.
We must try, even though we will always fail, to be publicly symmetrical. We must cleave radically to the Silver Rule: do not do to others what is hateful to you.
We hate that asshole who is so serenely oblivious to his own peculiarly personal judgment that he cannot see how subjective his own objectivity is. And what is objective is universally binding. It is self-evident to left-illiberals that they are the most benevolent and just and that anyone to their right is either deluded or in on some conspiracy to delude the gullible. And vice versa.
Illiberalism, like fundamentalism, flourishes in its oppositional illiberalisms. Back in crazier days I called this phenomenon “Ares’s handpuppets”. Ares loves only war. He is known to play sides against each other to produce, intensify and prolong war. If you pick a side, thinking the enemy of your enemy must be your friend, you are now possessed by Ares. I am speaking figuratively here in a way far more literal than you might imagine.
One more thing: many people have begun to note a “rightward” drift in my thinking, but this drift is rightward only relative to what I have come to regard as an illiberal attitude against money in the left orthodoxy. I believe that well-cultivated economies can produce ranges of equality supportive of liberal-democracy, but I still far from believing economic wildernesses automatically produce these effects, and those who claim such are often on the predator end of the predator-prey continuum. I believe this still places me to the left of liberalism.
But the reason I have become pro-money is that there are a few liberal institutions that manage to collapse the unmanageable richness of individual judgments into manageable and quantifiable general units, and those two units are dollars and votes. Without the aid of these two units we would have no means of public self-regulation.
This is a barely-formed insight and nowhere near a carefully thought-out position, but this is how thoughts are born: as defenseless babies. To instantly attack a new insight of this kind simply because it is not yet defensible is intellectual infanticide. I feel it is time to throw it out there to toddle around in the playground of my blog. I hope you’ll play with it, and try to entertain what it could be in mature form rather than immediately murder it for the unforgivable crime of not yet being a full-grown, combat-trained ideology. Even if it doesn’t get along perfectly with your own intellectual brat. Because there’s nothing worse than parents who lose all perspective when their kid gets in a conflict with another kid. They’re all kids — yours, theirs — and we must stay adults even — especially — when we feel our own kid’s anguish with that unnerving immediacy only parents know. Note to self: read this passage to myself with acute self-accusation, again and again, until I finally get it.