In this Lockean conception of mind and will, what morality amounts to is whether or not an individual wants something. If he directs his will towards it, it is good. What we have here is a sort of psychological precursor to Hayek’s pricing mechanism. Untethered to larger metaphysical claims, morality becomes a tug of war between wills. Objectivity perishes in the crossfire of solipsistic reasoning. Men and women are turned into toadies of ideology. In Schindler’s words, “If freedom is conceived as power, then a basic form of the exercise of freedom in the world is the conversion of the world into money.”
So post-liberal critiques of Locke matter because our whole social order is predicated upon ideas which, if he did not outright invent, Locke at least popularized. It might be better, therefore, to say that post-liberal conservatives are in actuality pre-liberal. After all, markets, like culture, haven’t always been Lockean. Says John Milbank in Church Life Journal:
[W]hile the perennial presence of an acquisitive instinct is banally true, there is no real evidence of any pre-modern social inclination anywhere to organise an economy, much less a socio-political order, on the minimum basis of individualistic greed. To the contrary, as Karl Polanyi famously asserted, this has been almost universally avoided by embedding the economic in social goals of reciprocal human flourishing. It is only capitalist modernity that perversely does just the opposite: embed social and political pursuits in the economic realm, itself newly understood in terms of a mutual satisfying of essentially isolated egoistic needs.
This difference is the dividing line in political taxonomy. It is the most important question by far. Is it possible to serve the common good through rapacity and weaponizing radical individual will? There have always been conservatives who would answer in the negative. And we have never been laissez-faire.
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