YouTuber Sargon of Akkad, a pseudonym for British man Carl Benjamin, has written a set of principles to describe the political philosophy he espouses, which so far can only be described by the adjective “liberalist”. Whether there is or will be a noun form for the set of liberalist ideas is unknown at this time. Unfortunately for linguists everywhere, liberalistism seems to the be most reasonable option to name the ideas with a noun. As such, I will do my best to torture my own prose in order to avoid ever typing the word liberalistism again.
The current set of liberalist principles are described here, which Sargon shared on Minds and are presumably written by him. I had to use an archive because they’ve changed since they were first published, and if they are to ever be worthwhile, they will change again. Sadly, these are not in a complete enough form to criticize in a meaningful sense. The lack of definitions, inconsistent language and terseness makes legitimate criticism impossible. Should my legitimate criticisms of what exists be heard, I am likely to find the sands of definition shifting so that no criticism needs to be addressed. The tools left to my disposal to examine this piece are therefore limited to pointing out structural problems and teasing.
Overall the set of liberalist principles as described here is consistent with my impression of Sargon and his followers: people whose opinion is that the status quo of 2018 is more or less optimal, and that the Wikiquote page of 17th century English philosopher John Locke in combination with their own conventional wisdom is all that is necessary to support that view. It is very fortunate for Sargon and his followers that they happened to be born into the moment when the optimal ideals for political organization are also the conventional civic virtues they were taught in middle school.
All political rights must be universally shared by all adult citizens, enforced by a state that is accountable to the people. Groups may not have rights that violate the rights of individuals.
Each person’s rights must remain sacrosanct. This is the primary protection all people in society must enjoy to ensure justice and there can be no extra-legal justification to violate an individual’s rights.
The first sentence of these principles already yields problems. “All political rights must be universally shared by all adult citizens, enforced by a state that is accountable to the people.” Nowhere does Sargon care to tell us what a political right is. Is it different from the term natural right Locke uses? Are political rights the only kind of rights or are they part of a vast undefined tapestry of rights? The audience is left to guess what this means. Similarly, state, accountability and people are equally ill-defined terms. Unlike his favorite philosopher, Sargon seems to think that governments and states just fall out of the sky and have people assigned to them. Accountability is a strange term as well. Caligula was held accountable for his actions in government, but I don’t think that’s the sort of government Sargon had in mind. Of course, Sargon later goes on to say that only democratic governments are legitimate, so I think that overrides all sorts of accountability except for the ballot-box type of accountability.
Moving on from the first sentence doesn’t make things much better. Apparently groups have rights, whose source and function are left as an exercise to the reader, that may not interfere with individual rights. Why the rights of a group differ from the rights of an individuals acting in concert is kind of bizarre. In the next sentence Sargon describes individual rights as sacrosanct, which seems like an odd word choice in a document which excludes religion from the organization of government.
All legal adults must be franchised with the right to have a direct method of exerting influence over their government. This is usually a representative democracy with the state as the servant of the people, dedicated to protecting their property rights and interfering with their lives as little as possible.
In the second section, Sargon moves into sheer Jacobin territory by declaring democracy the only legitimate form of government. Locke, in his Second Treatise on Government, marks himself against the concept of divine right, but not against Kings who reign with the consent of the governed. The belief that democracy is the only possible legitimate form of government is either a Jacobin or Trotskyist concept, both of which encourage the revolution to be spread by force around the world.
That isn’t even the worst bit of the second section. Sargon says that all adults should be granted the vote. Does he mean naturalized citizens here? Does he include incarcerated felons? Is living within a state sufficient to be granted a vote for its government? It is hard to tell what are hidden extremist positions and what is simple intellectual laziness on Sargon’s part.
Property rights begin with personal self-ownership and extend to any property an individual has legally acquired. The individual must be, as much as possible, in control of their own economic destiny. This includes the right to own property, engage in trade, to sell one’s own labour or to engage in collective economic activities.
For once, Sargon writes too many words in the section on economic freedom. Rather than stick to broad platitudes, he adds in caveats to make sure he has room to justify encroachments by the status quo on his banal principles that come later in the short list.
Freedom of speech
All people should enjoy the right to voice political ideas, no matter how controversial, without suffering penalties via state imposed fines, exclusion from the political system, incarceration or any other form of punishment.
No political idea can ever be considered as incitement, abuse or harassment in and of itself.
No speech should be compelled.
His description of freedom of speech is typically short, so the fact it is missing necessary details shouldn’t come as a surprise at this point. I do find it interesting that like rights, he chooses the adjective political to describe speech. It raises the question if non-political ideas are subject to suppression and incarceration for a liberalist.
People should be judged by the content of their character. Promotion should be on the basis of achievement and should not be unduly inhibited by innate characteristics.
Nobody is entitled to receive benefits they did not earn or to which they are not already entitled by being a citizen.
This is not to be misinterpreted as declaration against social safety nets or healthcare, but against individuals or groups claiming unearned benefits, whether social or material, that they otherwise do not deserve.
When it comes to meritocracy, the opening statement about people being judged by the “content of their character” seems out of place. While obviously an unattributed reference to Martin Luther King Jr., judging people by the content of their character isn’t meritocratic in the slightest under common definitions. An otherwise bad person who is an effective employee should be promoted according to Sargon’s achievement criterion in the second sentence, but not when the content of his character is used to judge. In just two sentences, Sargon manages to provide contradictory statements on how a meritocracy should operate.
Moving on in meritocracy we find more problems. The first is that I don’t know if the use of citizen is supposed to mean something different from the word adult used previously. Sargon then says that people aren’t entitled to benefits, except for the ones he thinks they are entitled to. The two statements here also contradict the earlier statement about people being in control of their own economic destiny. Of course, Sargon added a caveat to that statement, so he likewise doesn’t have to follow it when he doesn’t want to.
Each individual will be governed by the same laws as their peers, whether applicable or not, without exception.
Each person will be presumed innocent until proven guilty and guaranteed the right to a fair trial.
Sargon has very little to say about justice, except that laws should be applied consistently, that innocence is presumed, and that there should be fair trials. This extreme terseness on such a vital subject, one much more important than freedom of speech or meritocracy is telling. The laziness displayed here just seems to be Sargon not particularly caring about the topic, but feeling like it needed to be included.
There must be a strict separation between religion and state. Religious institutions must not be able to exert political power on the state for the goal of promoting religious beliefs.
All people must be allowed to worship privately or publicly (or not at all) as long as their religious beliefs do not interfere with the rights of others. This includes the ability to establish religious institutions and proselytise their faith.
Nobody is free to impose their beliefs on others.
Finally we get to the last section of this silly set of principles, on the separation of religion and state. The word choice here is once again telling because he means something fundamentally different than the American church and state. Sargon wants worship of self to be enshrined in government, and for other modes of belief to be tossed aside. For someone who believes only in the self, this is a very good arrangement as it puts their religion that doesn’t seem like a religion in the position of a state church.
All and all, Sargon has laid out a set of principles so vague that at a passing glance, any American or Brit who doesn’t think much about politics, would not only have agreed with them, but probably wrote something similar and of similar quality in a high school civics course, even if they actually disagreed with the views Sargon promotes. Liberalistism, in this form, is indistinguishable from a dozen other dopey political brands like reformicons, or conservatarians. Nothing makes it stand out from boring consensus politics. At least consensus politics has the excuse of trying to find common ground between people without strict adherence to principle. Sargon is trying to make a statement about a coherent set of views, and fails at every conceivable level. As I’ve said, I didn’t even bother criticizing the actual ideas in this piece, just their poor construction, their contradictions, and the obvious caveats Sargon has to use as excuses for not following his stated principles. There is plenty to say about the ideas, and when the day comes that Sargon is able to articulate those ideas in a sufficient amount of explanation with a sufficient amount of specificity, I will be happy to engage with the ideas. Until then, this will have to suffice.