In political thought, perhaps the most basic, formative and necessary intellectual task is to adequately define that which one opposes or seeks to change. This is especially true for us, devotees of an inchoate and wholly natural politic; and true for us, too, given that there is such a variety of opinion about what it is, exactly, nationalism is fighting. An adequate definition of that lends coherence to our cause, and refines our purpose.
I thought it might be interesting and revealing to invite such definitions from readers. Here are a couple from an email conversation between Graham Lister and me last February, which I happened across this evening. I can’t speak for the care which Graham devoted to his. Maybe he wrote it on the hoof. Maybe not. But I recall thinking quite hard about mine, which follows, and which, when I read it today, I must say seems a little formal and lacking in bite.
Anyhow, to get the ball rolling, here is Graham’s:
Liberal humanism treats the human individual subject as an abstract universal; it is premised on the paradoxical idea that all individuals should be treated the same, regardless of who or what they are by virtue of their status as radically differentiated and discrete phenomena. What grounds the reality of the social order is the universality of the ‘unencumbered’ and autonomous self, free to volitionally exert its will upon itself and the world. It offers a deflationary and reductionist ontology of the social and an inflationary account of the status and significance of the free-floating individual subject.
And here was the definition of the foundational “problem”, as I see it, which I wrote in response:
Liberalism is a product of the humanist strand in the Christianity of the high and late Middle Ages and early modern era, and the intellectual flowering of the Renaissance throughout this period. It treats the human individual subject as an abstract universal which is capable of full autonomy but is ordinarily defined, and thereby restrained and bounded, by the given in Nature and in society. It seeks, therefore, to liberate the subject from this definition and empower it to differentiate and author itself. Besides this process of radical liberation, it particularly commends equal treatment, universal respect and fraternity, and continual progress towards its own goals as the chief desiderata of society and politics.