"Unprincipled Exceptions": Lawrence Auster On How Liberalism "Works"
Definition: The unprincipled exception is a non-liberal value or assertion, not explicitly identified as non-liberal, that liberals use to escape the suicidal consequences of their own liberalism, and that conservatives use to resist the advance of liberalism, without renouncing or opposing liberalism itself.
Explanation: Modern liberalism stands for principles of equality and non-discrimination which, if followed consistently, would make a decent life in this world, or any life at all, impossible. But modern liberal society does not permit the public expression of non-liberal principles, by which rational limits to equality and non-discrimination, or indeed the very falsity of these ideas altogether, can be articulated. This fact forces liberals continually to make exceptions to their own liberalism, without admitting to themselves and others that they are doing so. Such exceptions must take inchoate, non-conceptual, pre-rational forms, such as appeals to brute self-interest or to common sense. As an example of such a “common sense” UE, a liberal who wants to escape from the negative consequences of his liberal beliefs in a given instance will say that a certain liberal idea “goes too far,” without his indicating by what principle he distinguishes between an idea that has gone “too far” and one that hasn’t. In fact, it’s purely a matter of what suits his own convenience and comfort level.
Conservatives also must have recourse to the unprincipled exception, but for a different reason than the liberals. Conservatives, of course, oppose liberalism, or, at least, they oppose some aspects of liberalism, but, since the conservatives also live in modern liberal society, in which principled opposition to liberalism is not allowed (not allowed, that is, for those who want to have a place in mainstream society), the conservatives’ only available means of opposing liberalism is by unprincipled exceptions, such as appealing to common sense, or habit, or saying, “that’s just the way things are,” or arguing that a particular liberal belief is “silly” or “stupid” or “extreme.”
Needless to say, the above does not apply to all conservatives in all situations. There are many instances where a conservative opposes a liberal position on the basis of a clearly articulated principle. But even these more serious conservatives will tend to oppose only some particular aspect of liberalism, not liberalism as such. For example, a conservative might advocate the exclusion of Muslim jihadists from U.S. immigration. But he will not challenge the underlying liberal belief in non-discrimination, incarnated in the 1965 Immigration Act, that compels us to admit Muslim jihadists in the first place.
Another important thing to understand about the unprincipled exception is that it is only a holding action. This is because liberalism, with its principled demand for the elimination of all discrimination (or rather for the elimination of all discrimination against minorities, non-Westerners, and the “oppressed”), keeps becoming more and more comprehensive in its goals, keeps moving forward and delegitimizing the remaining unprincipled exceptions to itself one by one, and so becoming more and more extreme until the society is destroyed.
Thus, under the rule of modern liberalism, both liberals and conservatives are dependent on the unprincipled exception to contain the excesses of liberalism , even though, as a weapon against liberalism, the UE is non-rational and ultimately impotent. They will only be free of it when it becomes permissible to express non-liberal concepts. To put it another way, liberalism forces people to be irrational. The aim of traditionalism is to help them become rational again. And that can only happen when modern liberalism with its strictures against non-liberal thought ceases to be the ruling power of society.
Posted June 14, 2006 on Lawrence Auster's View From The Right, www.amnation.com/vfr/