Saturday, May 29, 2010

The metaphysical orientation of the European neo-liberal movement

In my last post, I commented on the left-leaning politics of the Vienna Circle and noted that (so far as I know) the only classical liberal associated with the group was Louis Rougier. Rougier was also involved in the European neo-liberal movement. I suggested that the two movements were antithetical in certain respects.

I think the key differences are metaphysical, or concerned in a general way with attitudes to religion. It's well known that the logical positivists were anti-metaphysical and overwhelmingly anti-religious. The neo-liberals, on the other hand, though not concerned with either metaphysics or religion in any overt way, were driven in their political and economic views by a powerful belief in human freedom. I suggest that such a belief is metaphysical - even religious.

And, sure enough, when one examines the writings of key figures in the neo-liberal movement, one finds evidence of idealism (in the philosophical sense, i.e. the antithesis of materialism). Ludwig von Mises, for example, said that he did not accept the doctrines of any religion but believed that particular religions imperfectly expressed an essence or core of truth. Louis Rougier, though less forthcoming than his friend Mises, is another who was arguably an idealist at heart. Significantly, one of the papers he wrote for Erkenntnis (the main journal of the Vienna Circle) in the 1930s was on human freedom. In it he defends free will and rejects a materialist approach to human will and action.

I am trying to clarify my own personal views, and it bothers me that most other intelligent physicalists - in the 1930s and today - seem to have had/to have left-leaning views. It also bothers me that most of the defenders of the social and political values I hold dear are either religious or 'mysterian' (like Mises or Rougier).

It bothers me because I have the feeling that I might be missing something!


  1. I, too, have been troubled by the contradictory nature of the many seemingly oppositional social and political philosophical systems. Notice that the vast majority of left-leaning political arguments are dictated by emotion - the intangible; regardless of any hard facts, they will embed themselves within their emotive ideal like a tick.

    Even more interesting, but perhaps only observable in the United States, is an emerging hint that leftists (refer to Nacy Pelosi) are adhering to 'spiritualism,' even if it is simply a false front to appeal to the public.

  2. Mysterians to the right of us, mysterians to the left of us! Yes it may be that the old Marxist/materialist tradition is fading out.