The Totalitarian Self

Dale Kahune over at Q Ideas has something interesting to say about the general direction the “sexual revolution” is taking post-Obergefell and why it’s hugely problematic for a human future:

It’ll be more of the same if people insist on refusing to engage or allowing themselves to be surprised by such things. By the time last Friday came, the same-sex marriage debate was no longer about sex and had very little to do with marriage. Rather it was anchored in a redefinition of human identity itself. In the new world order, it is the individual, not biology or God, who determines identity. We are now “selves” of an increasing number of varieties and we are decreasingly male or female in a biologically meaningful sense. One day soon people will cease to use “same-sex” as adjectives for marriage. Every marriage will be the same: Selves who take vows. Two selves. Perhaps even three selves or more.

While Kahune focuses on what this notion of internally defined self means for religious freedom, the important piece here is the whole notion of self.

The reason I am not longer a libertarian is simple — libertarians tell a fundamentally fraudulent story about the history of the individual. Their story is heroic. The person as an individual arose in response to the expansion of state power, first against the totalizing monarchs of the 17th century, and then against the more powerful, popular states that arose beginning in the late 18th century with the French Revolution. Individualism came to exist because individual human beings stood up against the state to counter its grab for power.

But this story is a lie, from top to bottom. As Stanley Hauerwas notes in his Gifford Lectures (published as With the Grain of the Universe), and as several authors at The American Conservative (and elsewhere) have noted, the powerful states that arose with the claims of absolute monarchs in the early 17th century didn’t oppose individualism — they fostered it. They needed it. Largely because autonomous individuals — Kahune’s selves — were necessary instruments to incapacitate or destroy all non-state forms of association and loyalty that could possibly pose a threat to the monarch and to his (or her) state.

(The same is true of claims that private property arose as a defense against the monarch/state and its claims. This is nonsense. Private property exists because states need to know who owns what so land can be properly and accurately taxed.)

Without a strong state claiming absolute sovereignty over everything, you cannot have autonomous individuals. Because only an absolute sovereignty can make these kinds of claims on behalf of a single, isolated, autonomous human being. The expansion of human freedom — especially a human freedom severed from any notion of history, custom, limits, nature, or contingency — requires an expansion of state power to make that freedom possible.

Absolute freedom — the kind needed to make a self as Kahune describes here — requires absolute state power.

The legal and social recognition of Kahune’s selves is only possible because state power compels their recognition. And as more selves are created by people looking inward for the only “truth” that makes sense to them, they will demand yet more state power act on their behalf so that they will be free to live as the selves they choose without fear of social or legal sanction or with the universal recognition and acceptance of their chosen self.

This total state power that acts on their behalf will tolerate no dissent, no non-conformity, and no alternatives. And it will end the way all such ideologically driven experiments in human organizing do — brutally and badly.

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2 thoughts on “The Totalitarian Self

  1. “The reason I am not longer a libertarian is simple — libertarians tell a fundamentally fraudulent story about the history of the individual. ”
    As a reader of the libertarianism of Rothbard and Mises Institute, I certainly see a difference between the left-libertarian and the right-libertarian. Do they share the same message? To me, they don’t. Right-libertarianism, as I read it in Rothbard, sees libertarianism as only applicable to the ordering of life with the reality of the State. It doesn’t apply to religious questions, nor to family life and other “mediating institutions”. Libertarianism might be off-base, at times, but when applied within proper constraints, it brings a lot of insight to the problem of the growth of the State in modern times. Perhaps its value is more from a critical angle, than a constructive angle. I’m not sure.

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