Poll
Post-Enlightenment Humanism is a philosophy in accords with...
Political and/or Economic Conservatism 0
Neo-Conservatism 0
Neo-Liberalism 1
New Deal Liberalism or Social Democracy 2
State Socialism or State Capitalism 0
American Libertarianism (Right-Wing Libertarianism, or any "free market" or capitalistic libertarianism) 2
Libertarian-Socialism or Anarchism 2
Total Votes: 7
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Classical Liberalism, the Enlightenment and Humanism
Posted: 01 January 2007 06:06 PM   [ Ignore ]
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[b:a12ca2e1a3][u:a12ca2e1a3]On Classical Liberalism, the Enlightenment and Humanism[/u:a12ca2e1a3]

An acquaintance of mine some years back, first name-Anthony, loved to insist that his political philosophy was Classical Liberalism.  I often found this absurd because Anthony was a Republican who favored George W. Bush’s "American-interests" interventualism in the Middle East, Capital Punishment, capitalism, and other mainly conservative or neo-conservative (or fascist) ideals. 

His argument was that modern Liberalism (New Deal Liberalism or Social Democracy), with its Democratic (capital ‘D’) economic and social ideals, were an abandonment of Enlightenment politics - of which both of us being atheists, perhaps of the humanist kind, held dear.  Anthony never called himself a conservative, never mind a neo-conservative or fascist, and tried to convince me that my form of Liberalism was wrongheaded. 

As I was, at the time, a Social Democrat, he might have been right. Today, I see social democracy as a humanistic band-aid to cover the wounds of capitalism and state authoritarianism for a short while - long enough to fool some into thinking things have gotten better, but not long enough to turn away conservatives, neo-conservatives and fascists for all time.  In short, it was and is impossible to maintain, as it is still authoritarian, elitist by control, and meant to mask a real disease underneath (capitalism).  Recall, FDR said the New Deal saved capitalism.  But is capitalism worth saving?

To me, it seemed then - and now - that conservatives and Right-Libertarians have appropriated Classical Liberalism (the politics of the Enlightenment) for themselves.  They get away with it (superficially. and with most Americans whom, after all, only think superficially), because Classical Liberalism seems to better "fit" conservatism or Right-Libertarianism than it does the New Deal Democrats or Social Democrats (both born of state socialist and state capitalist ideals). 

Why?

Because these two advocate for ‘big government’ in just the way Conservatives (small government and big military) and Right-Libertarians (absolutely unrestricted free market) argue they do.  And although big government can sometimes lead to humanistic reforms like Social Security and, perhaps one day, national health care as in Europe and Canada, it often cannot survive the ups and downs of the market, the corruptness of capitalism and/or escape the authoritarianism of state socialism/state capitalism.
 
So, was Classical Liberalism, a philosophy certainly not like big government state socialism or state capitalism, ever the same thing as conservatism (of any variety), or of Right-Libertarianism?

Noam Chomsky (a scholar Anthony despised, it seems to me, because Chomsky speaks the truth on this issue), talks about Classical Liberalism in a short book (based on a 1970 talk) called Government in the Future.  For the record, many others speak to this as well from Michael Albert to Ted Honderich to Takis Fotopoulos to Stephen Bronner, etc. 

He points out that…

"the modern conservative tends to regard himself as the lineal decedent of the classical liberal.  But I think that can be only maintained from an extremely superficial point of view, as one can see by studying more carefully the fundamental ideas of classical libertarian thought ... one must say (after doing their homework), that classical liberal ideas in their essence, though not in the way they (wound up being) developed, are profoundly anti-capitalistic.  The essence of these ideas must be destroyed for them to serve as an ideology of modern industrial capitalism.  Its (classical liberalism) doctrine is that state functions should be drastically limited, but this familiar characterization is a very superficial one.  More deeply, the classical liberal view develops from a certain concept of human nature, one that stresses the importance of diversity and free creation (among other things), and therefore this view is in fundamental opposition to industrial capitalism with its wage slavery, its alienated labor, and its hierarchic and authoritarian principles of social and economic organization ... classical libertarian thought (Enlightenment thought) is opposed to the concepts of possessive individualism that are intrinsic to capitalist ideology.  For this reason, classical liberal thought seeks to eliminate social fetters and to replace them with social bonds, and not with competitive greed, predatory individualism, and not, of course, with corporate empires - state or private.  Classical, libertarian thought seems to me, therefore, to lead directly to libertarian-socialism, or anarchism if you like ... (As for the free market), as Karl Polanyi, for   one, has pointed out, the self-adjusting market ‘could not exist for any length of time without annihilating the human and natural substance of   society; it would have physically destroyed man and transformed his surroundings into a wilderness.’"

So it seems that the American Founding Fathers - and their Enlightenment counterpart and later philosophers (Hume, Kant, Mill, Marx, Paine, Humboldt, Rousseau & Bakunin) - saw a sort of Classical Liberalism which would not lead to Conservatism or American Libertarianism (right-libertarianism) any more than to state socialism or state capitalism in the New Deal or Swedish form (the latter kinds being efforts to humanize the former). 

No, indeed, classical liberalism (based on the Enlightenment ideals of freedom, liberty, etc) leads directly to libertarian-socialism.* 

To those "humanists" who think the Enlightenment was only about reason vs. religion, recall that it was also about these things.  To the extent that modern humanism is based on Enlightenment principles, it must reject conservative politics and economics.  It must, once it has done that, reject modern Liberal or state socialist/communist politics as well.  It must reject capitalism and it must also reject Right-Libertarianism as there is no such thing as a truly free-market - even the conservatives and Right-Libertarians know this, they just say otherwise.

Enlightenment humanism is one which is libertarian-socialist as far as politics and economics are concerned.  Based on what we know of human nature, from our experience and intuitions to humanism’s self-defining egalitarianism, humanists should embrace a definition of their philosophy which is internally consistent with all of this; that is, "Humanism is a sociopolitical philosophy, informed by scientific naturalism, wherein human society is founded on non-hierarchal, democratic principles.  Humanism promotes individual freedom, mutual cooperation, equitable allocation of natural and artifical resources, and the guaranteed opportunity for all people to reach their full potentials."

PS: I fully understand that Humanist Manifesto I and II (the two defining documents of modern humanism) advocate for a statist solution (I is more socialist and II is open to markets and a regulated capitalism), as they were products of the 20th century.  Kurtz’s Manifesto 2000 is even more friendly to markets, capitalism and social democracy as Kurtz also is a product of the 20th century.  Still, the many messages IN the manifestos seem to call for a better system than these.  I think its time for humanism to move into the 21st century, become radical again, and take off the statist training wheels.  21st Century humanism should become Libertarian-Socialist.[/b:a12ca2e1a3]

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Posted: 02 January 2007 01:29 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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As a minor aside, Manifesto III was written in about 1976 to replace Manifestos I and II.  You might want to dig it up and see how it compares.

Occam

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Posted: 02 January 2007 02:27 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I have to say I kind of bristle at the notion that to be a humanist we “must” or “should” espouse a particular economic theory or political philosophy. You claim that the underlying values of humanism can only be realized by way of a particular form of social organization. Since as secular humanists we share a commitment to reason and critical thought, and a belief that empirical validation is the only meaningful measure of truth, we are likely to disagree often, as non-humanists do, about which political or economic system will best achieve our ends (freedom, economic equity, maximization of human potential, etc). The previous polls and discussions on these boards have made it clear that a variety of political theories are held by members of this community, yet we all share certain values and ideas that make us a community, and we choose to label these “humanism.” I don’t see a convincing argument that those of us who make a choice other than “Libertarian Socialism- Anarchism” above are mistakenly using the label. We could, of course, argue about whether that is the best route to achieving the goals of humanism, but I’m getting less and less interested in arguing about political and economic theory, since the data is scant and unreliable and since few minds ever seem to be changed.

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Posted: 03 January 2007 09:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Humanism and politics

[quote author=“mckenzievmd”]I have to say I kind of bristle at the notion that to be a humanist we “must” or “should” espouse a particular economic theory or political philosophy. You claim that the underlying values of humanism can only be realized by way of a particular form of social organization. Since as secular humanists we share a commitment to reason and critical thought, and a belief that empirical validation is the only meaningful measure of truth, we are likely to disagree often, as non-humanists do, about which political or economic system will best achieve our ends (freedom, economic equity, maximization of human potential, etc). The previous polls and discussions on these boards have made it clear that a variety of political theories are held by members of this community, yet we all share certain values and ideas that make us a community, and we choose to label these “humanism.” I don’t see a convincing argument that those of us who make a choice other than “Libertarian Socialism- Anarchism” above are mistakenly using the label. We could, of course, argue about whether that is the best route to achieving the goals of humanism, but I’m getting less and less interested in arguing about political and economic theory, since the data is scant and unreliable and since few minds ever seem to be changed.


    Yes, few minds seem to be changed, but this is often because of certain things in society which do not allow critical thinking to flourish in this area (any more than in the area of religion).... But this is for a whole other discussion…

    What I want to say here in response to your comments is that I am aware that the polls and other venues have shown that people come to modern “humanism,” often, from various sociopolitical or economic ideological backgrounds.  I think this was not always the case because, although science and knowledge changes our perspectives over time, humanists have the same goals in mind (as you admit above), and their debate on how to make those goals a reality DO NOT vary as much as you might think.  That is, I would argue that for humanists - given the current state of corporate or free-market capitalism and hierarchic democracies (never mind systems even worse than this) - the most humanistic move is toward the social safety net welfare ideas of FDR and the 1970s Swedish model of social democracy. 

    It also makes sense to me that humanists would, if given the chance to think up a way to do away with capitalism et al, so that a welfare state is not necessary as a fix-it-up for society, and could implement a society which would be healthier for humanity than anything we now have (including the welfare state, but give us the benefits and more of the welfare state), humanists would choose some sort of libertarian-socialism (or anarchism) in the inclusive, participatory democracy style.

    Now, why does my take on humanist’s wants and methods seem to differ from reality - from those at CFI or on these forums?  I think, and I have said this before, that somewhere between the Enlightenment and first Humanist Manifesto ... And today ... Humanism (at least in America) has been corrupted ideologically… Not by science or reason, or by religion, but by capitalism! 

    Before the 1950s, capitalism was seen clearly as undemocratic and anti-humanistic by humanists… The Cold War (with its communist bogeyman), made capitalism into a religion, and socialism (of even the libertarian sort), a devilish system.  As leading humanists began to accept this as a real commentary on political and economic systems… And leading humanists began to accept or even embrace capitalism… The egalitarian nature of humanism became corrupt. for you cannot be egalitarian under capitalism.

    Therefore, rather than the sociopolitical and economic principles of humanism being the main reason for one to call him or herself a humanist (along with embracing a naturalistic outlook as opposed to a supernaturalistic one), the metaphysical definition went front and center, and the real litmus test for being a humanist was being an atheist (or at least, a scientific naturalist). 

    I argue that humanism, then, has become synomonous with scientific naturalism or atheism, and is why so many self-identifying humanists are NOT advocating for the sociopolitical - economic ideas I am.  Not all atheists are humanists. 

    Ironically, humanism has been corrupted, to a degree, by atheists who denounce the authoritarianism and oligarchy of religion but embrace the authoritarianism and oligarchy of capitalism or the so-called free market.  When humanism purges itself of the uber-competitive, uber-hierarchal, authoritarian and undemocratic scourge of “free market” and all other forms of capitalism, the non-humanistic atheists among us will have to be happy sticking to science advocacy, fighting pseudoscience, and debating metaphysics, and leave the sociopolitical and economic ideas to the humanists.

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Posted: 03 January 2007 12:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Now, why does my take on humanist’s wants and methods seem to differ from reality - from those at CFI or on these forums? I think, and I have said this before, that somewhere between the Enlightenment and first Humanist Manifesto ... And today ... Humanism (at least in America) has been corrupted ideologically… Not by science or reason, or by religion, but by capitalism!

humanists would, if given the chance to think up a way to do away with capitalism….humanists would choose some sort of libertarian-socialism (or anarchism) in the inclusive, participatory democracy style.

The egalitarian nature of humanism became corrupt. for you cannot be egalitarian under capitalism.

I’m not really informed enough to comment on the historical aspects of your argument. And, to be honest, I’m not personally a big fan of capitalism. And though I’m not exactly sure in practical terms what you mean by anarchism, FDR is one of my heroes, and I’m probably what you would call a “statist” of the New Deal/Great Society variety. All of that, as you say, is a discussion for another forum, or at least another thread.

What I am troubled by in your comments is the repeated implication that, for historical reasons presumably, humanism is fundamentally defined by the sociopolitical system you espouse, with scientific naturalism as only another, less critical, component. You further imply that the ONLY sociopolitical system that a humanist could rationally conclude would serve their values is yours, and that self-described humanists who favor another system are seduced or blinded by the religion of capitalism and so not intellectually free to reach your enlightened conclusions. That argument, apart from the flavor of arrogance about it, presupposes it’s own correctness and so deligitimizes any contrary conclusions, or even any real debate on the subject. As such, it smacks of an “I’ve-seen-the-light” self-assurance which is, I believe, the real reason why few minds are changed in religious or political debates (rather than the factors you allude to which suppress critical thinking).

I argue that humanism, then, has become synomonous with scientific naturalism or atheism, and is why so many self-identifying humanists are NOT advocating for the sociopolitical - economic ideas I am.

It may also be that whether they agree with your sociopolitical agenda or not, they feel compelled to focus their energies on promulgating other aspects of the humanist paradigm. As a clinician, I see the dmaging effects of non-scientific thinking on people’s lives daily and it frustrates me greatly. And as an atheist and a scientist, I am deeply disturbed by the anti-science, anti-intellectual zeitgeist in our government and society at large. So my energies are focused on these areas because my experiences and talents lead me towards them, not because I’m ignorant of sociopolitical issue nor because I’m not a “real” humanist.

Pleas understand,  I don’t intend this as a personal attack on you. I don’t know enough of you from your intriguing, though somewhat inflammatory, posts to judge how open-minded you are, and I may be overreading the statements cited above. I’m only pointing out that the tone and assumptions of your arguments seem to stifle debate on their merits by presuming disagreement with them stems from ignorance or externally fettered thinking.

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Posted: 03 January 2007 02:21 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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If we cling to atheism as the bases for our behavior in society, then we may become what I call, “atheist avengers,” putting our energies in debunking God while leaving social justice issues behind. If we only focus on science and skepticism we risk the twin evils of elitism and arrogance, finding more strength in attacking religionists or debunking the masses, than in making the world a better place to live. And if we focus only on social justice issues and ignore the problems of supernaturalism and the tool of science, we can find ourselves trapped in the labyrinth of postmodernism and luditism….So, finding all of these above as necessary parts of any meaningful and culturally relevant definition…

Now that’s more my kind of definition olf humanism! (though you notice I left out the bits about the “fallacy” of free will and humanism being primarily a “sociopolitical philosophy” only “informed by” scientific natguralism) grin Having looked at some of your writing, I suspect we agree more than we disagree, though we would certainly place different degrees of emphasis on the various constituents of a comprehensive humanist outlook.

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