The Real Horseshoe

Horseshoe Theory

A new trend that's been showing up in my YouTube subs is former Leftists or Left-Libertarians who rose to prominence in the anti-SJW campaigns rebranding as champions of Classical Liberalism. If you're a fan of Internet Bloodsports, you know what I'm talking about.

You know a phenomenon has gained traction when it filters down to the normies. In the case of rebranded Liberalism, I've seen ideas discussed in IBS spectacles repeated in relatively conservative social media circles. Conservative commentators were fond of pointing out Liberals' habit of changing their ideology's name every decade or so. Ironically, now it's Conservatives who are rebranding Liberalism.

Or perhaps not so ironically. The biggest blind spot of American Conservatives is that their picture of the Right-Left political spectrum has always been zoomed in on the Center-Left. Because being an American Conservative means wearing these blinders, Conservatives have no idea that Conservatism is really just inconsistent Liberalism.

It's become fashionable again for Classical Liberals to boisterously sing the praises of individualism. They're sure that the infallible Answer to what ails us is elevating individual freedom to an absolute. Seeking to maximize personal freedom will put paid to those collectivist SJWs!

This magical thinking is a trick of the blinders. Classical Liberals think SJWs are Liberal heretics who perverted the individualist ideal. The reality that SJWs are the inevitable logical end of Liberalism remains hidden in their blind spot.

Classical Liberal boilerplate holds that individual freedom must be considered paramount because it's absolute. We know that freedom is the highest good, it's argued, because any attempt to infringe on personal freedom in the name of some greater good can lead to justifying atrocities.

If that sounds like circular logic, it is. Arguing that individual freedom is the highest good because no other good is worth infringing individual freedom for assumes what it sets out to prove.

It's no use invoking enormities committed in the name of "the greater good", either. First, abuse does not militate against legitimate use--if it does, the gun-grabbers are right. Second, speaking of "atrocities" implicitly makes a moral judgment above and beyond the value of freedom, so either freedom can only be evaluated in reference to another good--in which case it's not absolute--or the referent is freedom itself, which is more circular logic.

Of course, the whole exercise is a complete nonstarter. Freedom is no more absolute than money is. The proof is in the fact that the concept "freedom" is entirely content-free until it's applied to something else. Every mention of freedom carries the implicit question of "Freedom to what?" You can have the freedom to bear arms, associate with whom you choose, and practice your faith. In each case, the value of each freedom is wholly contingent upon the value of owning guns, the company you keep, and and the virtue of religion.

Freedom's worth is equal to the intrinsic value of the objective goods it gives you access to, no more; no less. To put the matter in perspective, it's useful to think of freedoms as potential goods whose value is determined only when they're actualized. Being in act is greater than being in potentia. Which is more perfect--a piece of sheet music or a live performance of the piano sonata written on the page? So much for freedom as an absolute.

Trying to treat freedom as if it were absolute is the soul of the entire Liberal project. The fact that its underlying premise is false explains why Liberalism has come crashing down in flames. The problem with absolutizing individual freedom is that you will immediately run up against situations wherein one sovereign individual's freedom directly conflicts with the freedom of another sovereign individual. A hallmark of absolutes is that they're nonnegotiable. You can see the irreconcilable dilemma.

Instead of bowing to reality, Liberals try to square the circle. Whether the proposed solution to the paradox is an appeal to shared understandings or a robust system of contracts, in practice it always ends with the government getting involved. We live neither in Eden nor the New Jerusalem, so there will always be winners and losers. If I want to use my freedom to party all night, but my next door neighbor wants to study quietly, only one of us is going to get what he wants. The other will probably get ticketed for violating a noise ordinance.

The point is that Liberalism is inherently dishonest. It pretends to treat all personal preferences as equal until reality forces it to treat some preferences as more equal than others. As in the example above, the group must decide that there are right and wrong ways to use individual freedom. Making that call means they don't really believe freedom is absolute. But they go on pretending it is.

It would be far more sane and practical to admit that trying to absolutize freedom with no reference to the good is a fool's errand doomed to end in tears. But what Liberals really want is the license to pursue their pet individual preferences free of outside coercion. Scratch Liberalism, and you'll find nothing but garden variety hedonism. It's rather disappointing after all the high-minded Enlightenment philosophizing.

There's a darker side to Liberal hypocrisy. Since they embrace the concept of rightfreedoms and wrongfreedoms, internally consistent Liberals have no qualms about using the power of the state to quash the liberties of those who take objection to their pleasure-seeking. The SJW is the apotheosis of that impulse.

As a result, not only do Conservatives always lose to the Left, they categorically cannot win. Talk to those on the dissident Right, and you'll soon hear Conservatives described as "Liberals twenty years ago". It's commonly said in those quarters that Conservatives have "accepted the Left's frame".

The truth runs deeper than that. These critics of American Conservatism are like the blind men groping the elephant--largely because they themselves haven't yet fully removed their old Conservative blinders.

As ideological heirs of the Enlightenment, Conservatives are of the Left. They have always been of the Left and always will be. They pay lip service to upholding freedom as absolute but are even less consistent about it than the SJWs.

Conservatives just have a lower disgust threshold. Thus, they reliably have an initial Ewwww response to the Far Left's latest call for some decadent conjured "right". But they are never convincingly able to articulate precisely why this new freedom should not be embraced. They make allusions to basic morality, natural law, or even divine law. But no one takes them seriously because appeals by Classical Liberals to goods that transcend freedom inherently ring false.

The so-called Culture War between Conservatives and Liberals has predominantly been a civil war within the Left. Democrats have applied Liberalism more consistently. Therefore, Republicans have consistently lost.

You can tell that Classical Liberals are on the Left because they argue like Commies. Point out the internal contradictions of individualism, and you'll be told that true individualism has never been tried, while being called a collectivist to boot. Liberalism isn't a political philosophy to which these folks subscribe. It's a faith to which they submit their reason.

History plainly contradicts the Liberal narrative. Tolstoy put the lie to Great Man Theory. The Framers of the US Constitution, supposedly paragons of Liberalism, abandoned the Articles of Confederation for the more centralized federal government that plagues us to this day.

Individualism has served only one long-term purpose: to break society down into a loose mass of atomized loners who are completely helpless against the forces that seek to subjugate them. In this way, individualism is the handmaid of collectivism.

Those are the two adjacent poles of the real political horseshoe. Individualism vs. Collectivism is a false binary. The former denies solidarity. The latter denies subsidiarity. A more human approach is to balance both and so foster conditions wherein families, neighborhoods, and nations can flourish.

This denial of solidarity is also why Conservative movements have no shortage of self-appointed tone police always sniping at their own side while ignoring enemy action. #GamerGate, Sad Puppies, and now the #PulpRev and #ComicsGate are seeing the same phenomenon.

A Classical Liberal is someone who's kept awake at night worrying that somewhere, some non-Leftist is making a positive cultural contribution.

a way out of the filth and nihilism that seems to plague so much of modern fiction.


  1. "Individualism has served only one long-term purpose: to break society down into a loose mass of atomized loners who are completely helpless against the forces that seek to subjugate them. In this way, individualism is the handmaid of collectivism."

    This is the key. You can never have a society of "individualists" because you will be conquered and subjugated by some greater group. We're seeing it happen right now with SJWs, "liberalists", and Islam, across the west.

    This is only going to end in disaster.

    Pick a god, or one will be picked for you.

  2. Instead of bowing to reality, Liberals try to square the circle. Whether the proposed solution to the paradox is an appeal to shared understandings or a robust system of contracts, in practice it always ends with the government getting involved.

    And there's your blind spot. "It always ends with government" - why? Was it always so?

    Not necessarily, and here is the real lesson: Why didn't it in the past? For one thing, technology was limiting. If your local duke or lord was a good half day or more ride away, then you couldn't go running to government to solve your problems. You had to work it out between yourselves somehow.

    But then even after the rail and telegraph was invented, we don't see much gov involvement but still a lot of solidarity. Why? It's what I call "the asshole threshold" (or the "pride threshold" if you want something that sounds more religious). I explained this once in an email to someone else so let me quote it again:

    The problem is that people hate each other. I may need to get out of the house once in awhile but why would I want to do anything with that bastard JD who won't pay me back? Or that guy Brian who hit on my wife? Or Nathan who is just generally creepy? Why work things out? It's easier to just ignore them and go do other things. So communities disintegrate.

    Conversely, for an example let's look at when lodges provided health insurance. (seriously, watch that video) Now, if I need health insurance, I'm going to stick around and work things out with Morgan, Brian, Nathan, and others in the lodge because I have an incentive more powerful than my feelings.

    Likewise it's pretty clear that back in the day, people's principle retirement plan was their children. So there was a great incentive to not only get married, but have lots of kids and raise them for your own sake if no other.

    The Left wants to remove all hindrances to a person's whim and then wonder that nobody practices self discipline. They assume you can pile food on everybody's plate and not get an obesity epidemic because everybody just loves to exercise.

    Well they won't, and as long as there's no incentive out there stronger than people's pride (and we can be VERY proud), then all talk about individualism or collectivism or whatever else is like debating unicorn breeds - just academic. You want to build communities and families - we're going to have to give people a reason to be in either. As long as we have government subsidies for our pride, all your efforts are just dust in the wind.

    1. "And there's your blind spot. 'It always ends with government' - why? Was it always so?"

      Why? Because Liberalism is intrinsically progressive and totalitarian. It has historically made alliances of convenience with other ideologies to advance its goals, but it always throws them under the bus when they've outlived their usefulness. See: constitutional monarchism, republicanism, populism, etc.

      The reason Liberalism always turns on its former bedfellows is that an ideology seeking to make freedom an absolute cannot tolerate the existence of ideologies that acknowledge any higher goods.

      "If your local duke or lord was a good half day or more ride away, then you couldn't go running to government to solve your problems."

      My point precisely. The feudal system you're referring to not only predates Liberalism, the last remnants of Western European feudalism were abolished by the French Revolution--which was a direct consequence of Liberalism.


  3. Your observation that Liberalism is inherently totalitarian reminds me of what the prime ministers of their most Catholic majesties did to both the Jesuits and the society.

    The prime ministers were so desperate to modernize their countries due in part to England's formidablee indutsrlization as well as jealousy. However, the Jesuits were an obstacle to that modernization policy. So they convinced the pope to suppress the Jesuits because the proto liberals couldn't abide by anyone opposing them. At the same time, the same elites were insulting the ordinary people viewing them as superstitious idiots who needed to be cattleprodded into modernity.

    The Enlightenment radical learn the lesson very well and this is what they concluded:

    1) Anyone opposing societal reforms is a traitor and wrecker who must be ruthlessly eliminated

    2) Popular culture is supersitious and irrational. The fact that the ordinary people cling to it is simple proof of their profound mental backwardness provoking the elites to facepalm themselves at how their underlings embarass them.

    Were reforms needed? For sure but the elites so thoroughly alienated the population that it had to be stopped. The further result was to sour the population on any change no matter how legitmate it was and to freeze halfway a lot of reforms that would fester

    The Vendee, the Carlistas and the backwater rebellions in Brazil (os setaos) were signals that the population would fight back which only lead to the vicious cycle of repression and rebellion until one side won it big time. Usually it was the liberals but even the losers somewhat conditioned the victory

  4. The core argument you present is that all forms of American politics are versions of liberalism. I have a swath of responses to that, but first I have to ask this:

    What is it that you think is not-liberalism (and by implication are championing as a solution)?

    1. Monarchism is a political system that predates Liberalism.

      That said, I'm not championing any political system. Politics is downstream from culture. The West's addiction to Liberalism is currently inhibiting cultural renewal, so the sooner we stop taking the bad medicine, the sooner we can all go back.

      And we do have to go back. All the way back.

    2. All the way back to what, precisely? There's a lot of "back" to which we can go, which includes a whole lot of social systems that don't involve Monarchism.

      I don't even agree with the premise that left and right are both forms of liberalism, given that all American political systems and institutions have analogues that existed both during and before the people of medieval monarchism.

      Moreover, the split between Jacobins, Liberals, and Girondists reveals that left, center, and right are not the same, and that ever allying with leftists is a terrible idea. The right, in America, has been losing because it didn't fight back, not because it's a watery form the left. Distrusting centralized authority is not the same as idolizing freedom.

    3. As an additional point of amusement, Louis X, King of France, declared that "France signifies freedom". I suppose he was an early "liberal"?

    4. S1Al
      To answer it forthrightly a mix of monarchism robust munciplalism and a plethora of intermediate organizations that create a decentralized network of rights and responsibilities undergirded by the Salamanca school of political thought. For me the early years of Charles V before the reformation as closest to the ideal.
      I'm not blind to constant warfare, intrigue stupidity etc but i always regarded that period as an ideal to strive for again.

      Yup Louis X was a sorta liberal but one uncongenial to the rising industrialists.


    5. What's with the obsession with monarchism? What benefit can you point out that justifies it as a superior form of government?

  5. @ Brian - what about an aristocratic system based on merit, virtue and loyalty? I'm thinking a ruling class of voters who meet a standard that must be maintained otherwise they are demoted, such as must be a national, married to another national, no divorce, 3+ kids, net tax paying, no criminal record, no major moral infractions. I think a system run by those who are virtuous and have skin in the future of the country would work out better than even Catholic Monarchy.

    It's the power hungry psychopaths that always ruin it for everyone. We need a system of disincentives designed to keep them out.

    1. It's fun to brainstorm about building a better mousetrap, and I think you made a good effort. As I mentioned above, we're not ready to seriously start planning how society should be organized--not until we have a society again.

    2. Never thought of it like that. I always assumed that in order to win and build up said culture we had to offer something, principles, a platform, that could inspire others to fight for it. But maybe it would be better to just destroy the evil and the chaos and then sit down at the table and rationally hash out a new system that seeks to abrogate the problems inherent in our current system.

      Fight first, build later. That sound about right?

  6. Love this post by the way. The conversation needs to be had if Liberalism as a whole is salvageable or not. It was rammed into our heads in public schooling that liberal democracy is the bees knees, the only system mankind will ever need for governance from here to the infinite future. It was never allowed to cross our minds that democracy might be less stable than monarchy.

    1. Well ibdo think some elements are good
      Social mobility
      Free inquiry
      Technological innvovation
      But there other aspects that need to reevaluated

    2. Thank you. You're right, and no, it's not. We need to come to terms with the fact that Liberalism hasn't been "corrupted by the Left". It has worked exactly as it must. That's hard for many to accept, for the reasons you pointed out.

      Freedom is not absolute. Any attempt to absolutize freedom, which Liberalism is, can only end in sorrow.

      That said, taking back the cultural level is more important than the political level. However, politics is standing athwart positive cultural change. The SJWs' dyscivic effects need no explanation here. More insidious is Classical Liberals' knee-jerk compulsion to neglect or oppose cultural renewal. The cries of "But they're a private company!" that attend every call to sue or boycott a Big Tech monopoly, the rampant cowardice thinly disguised as "not sinking to the Left's level", and the failure of Conservatives to support each others' projects spring from deeply ingrained Liberal assumptions.

      I'm not trying to "fix" Liberalism. You can't fix poison. The only rational course of action is to stop drinking it.

    3. Agreed. It's like trying to do physical therapy for a limb rotted out with gangrene. Just stop and cut it off. Then build an awesome cybernetic prosthetic.