Philosophy, Politics

Can Liberalism Survive?

The political situation throughout Europe and North America has become increasingly volatile. For decades, a pro-business centre-right and a pro-labour centre-left have combined to dominate politics in most Western countries, allowing for a steady political situation with only modest changes between election cycles. Yet in recent years, this stability has come under pressure. Deutsche Bank’s Populism Index, updated after the recent Italian election, indicates that voter support for populist parties across key European countries is at its highest level since World War II, at over 30%. The Timbro Authoritarian Populism Index is more modest, measuring populist support last year at around 20%, having doubled since 1980.

These figures might even underestimate dissatisfaction with the status quo. During the 2016 U.S. election, both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders ran distinctively anti-establishment campaigns from within the established parties, meaning that voters didn’t need to shift parties to express their dissatisfaction. Trump has continued much of his anti-establishment rhetoric even after becoming president, and the Democratic Party has seen a surge in more left-leaning candidates who are convinced the country is in need of a radical fix. In the U.K., Labour has experienced a strong leftward pull from parts of the party. And throughout Europe, centrist parties have been forced to adopt rhetoric critical of immigration and policies previously found only on the right to avoid losing more support, the latest example being Sweden.

What’s causing all this dissatisfaction? Several high-profile events have undoubtedly had an impact. For example, the 2007-2008 financial crisis and associated bail-outs led to widespread protests and the perception of an unfair economic system, the 2014 Ferguson unrest brought the Black Lives Matter movement and issues of social justice to the broad public awareness, and the 2015 European migrant crisis sent more than a million people to Europe in a short space of time and was widely covered in the news media. Many other events have also helped create the perception of a society in need of radical change.

Events aren’t perceived in a vacuum though—people interpret them in relation to their values, attitudes, beliefs, and expectations—and these events have undoubtedly exposed a gap between the current state of society and what people expect of it, perhaps a greater gap than they had previously thought existed. There’s more to it than that, though. If people simply had a single value to which they could compare society, there would probably be less political confusion. What seems to be happening rather is that these events have exposed conflicts within people’s values, forcing them to choose between them. They assumed their values were coherent but have come to realise they aren’t.

For example, on the centre-right immigration concerns might be leading voters to recognise that pro-business and pro-nationalist attitudes are in conflict under current conditions of globalisation. Likewise, the Ferguson unrest and similar events might be leading voters on the centre-left to recognise that a belief in colour-blind individualism is in conflict with a desire to reduce racial inequality under current social conditions.

The fact that this sometimes occurs provides a valuable analytical opportunity: rather than simply viewing societal events as directly causing political shifts, we can view them as exposing conflicts in people’s underlying values (or beliefs or expectations), thus leading to political re-evaluations that reduce dissonance. The benefit of this approach is that we don’t have to predict specific events as a basis for determining future political shifts. If we can identify conflicts in people’s underlying values, we can predict that sooner or later they’ll be exposed and force a political shift, even if we can’t say precisely what those events will be.

My aim in this article is to examine the values of the political centre in order to figure out why so many people are turning away from it. My hypothesis, in accord with the above explanation, is that liberal values are in conflict to some degree and are being exposed as such by an accumulation of contemporary events. I’ll use the term liberalism to refer broadly to the political centre, ranging all the way from small-government conservatism, libertarianism, and classical liberalism on the centre-right, to social liberalism and social democracy on the centre-left. This is a slightly broader application than is typical for the term liberalism. What matters though is not the label, but the basic values.

Furthermore, I’ll define liberalism as the political embodiment of two core values: 1) objectivity, achieved primarily through science and reason, as the basis for decision-making; and 2) individualism, defined as freedom from coercion.

In examining whether these two values are congruent, I’ll draw on two philosophers who argued they aren’t, albeit from very different angles: Karl Marx, who argued that individualism (as defined under liberalism) is an impediment to objectivity; and Friedrich Nietzsche, who argued that objectivity is an impediment to individualism. Furthermore, I’ll link their critiques to movements on the left and the right, respectively, in an effort to understand why these movements are increasingly rejecting liberalism. I should note that I don’t necessarily endorse any of these views. I will, however, try to present them as strongly as I can. My intention is not to make definitive claims but hopefully to expand the current discourse a bit among liberals/centrists.

***

Marx’s Critique of Individualism as An Impediment to Objectivity

Something is commonly said to be objective if it’s observer-independent. (It’s “in the object.”) Since humans perceive the world through their particular perspectives, achieving objectivity—or at least moving toward it—must therefore entail transcending one’s own perspective. In the Republic, Greek philosopher Plato used a cave as an allegory for this process: due to the limits of their perspectives, people only see shadows of reality, yet it is (perhaps) possible to break free and see things as they truly are.

This implies a secondary definition of objectivity: to be objective is to be disinterested or neutral. In order to transcend their perspective, people must set aside personal interests and attachments. (The two notions are so closely related that this is commonly the main definition of objectivity.) These two notions of objectivity are central to much of Western thought. Both modern science and law, for instance, have adopted mechanisms that try to ensure that personal interests don’t prevent the pursuit of objectivity. (For example, you can’t be a juror if you know the person on trial.) This is a more modest approach to the pursuit of objectivity than Plato’s, focussing on removing the most blatant impediments to people transcending their perspectives, rather than on a singular jump from the particular to the objective.

Some liberal thinkers took the notion of disinterest further. British philosophers John Stuart Mill and Bertrand Russell, for example, emphasised the importance of open-mindedness and listening to opposing views. In other words, achieving objectivity isn’t just about eliminating personal interests, it requires an active process of seeking out and embracing different viewpoints. On closer examination, though, this produces a tension between the intellectual and the social sphere: intellectually, liberals should strive to transcend their own perspectives and to actively seek out and integrate the perspectives of other people, but socially, they should pursue their individual interests. (Scottish economist Adam Smith’s invisible hand, a core liberal concept, suggests that society is better off when everyone pursues their own interests.)

This implies that people should treat each other differently depending on whether they’re engaged in intellectual or social (especially economic) activity. This isn’t necessarily a problem—it might just be that the two spheres require different approaches, but it does at least highlight a difference. This is especially relevant because there are areas where these spheres overlap. For example, a political debate is partly an intellectual pursuit of objectivity and partly a social pursuit where individual interests are at stake.

Marx addressed the problem directly. He argued that the intellectual sphere reflects society’s underlying economic base. As long as a subset of society disproportionately controls its economic resources, society’s beliefs will not be objective; they’ll be partial to the interests of those people. However, they’ll seem to be objective. (Marx referred to these beliefs as “ideology” and acceptance of them as “false consciousness”.) This has important implications for intellectuals. An intellectual committed to objectivity must also be committed to social change, because the latter is a prerequisite for the former—only through social change can false consciousness be overcome, and objectivity achieved. In fact, we can think of it as expanding the liberal idea of disinterest—to achieve objectivity, intellectuals shouldn’t just strive to remove their immediate personal interests, but also to remove the economic conditions that at a societal level serve their interests over those of other people, since these too are intellectual impediments.

Later thinkers, perhaps most notably those working under the label of critical theory, expanded this idea to areas beyond economics—dominance works through many different mechanisms, and to achieve objectivity intellectuals must identify and remove the variety of interests that distort it. For example, people might think it objectively true that people are competitive, or that women are aren’t suited to high pressure jobs, or that ethnic minorities are unambitious. People form their beliefs by observing the behaviour around them, so if they see people being competitive, or women not being executives, or ethnic minorities seemingly not striving hard to improve themselves, they think these are objective facts of human nature. So, to achieve objectivity, intellectuals need to identify the contingent circumstances limiting human behaviour and then facilitate social change that allows people to act more freely, thus revealing their true nature and leading to more objective beliefs.

This approach has proven very successful and has become increasingly influential in Western academia. The point to note is that it hasn’t occurred via appeal to empathy, but to truth. By consistently demonstrating to other intellectuals that the beliefs they thought were objective in fact were not, but rather were partial to particular interests, intellectuals have increasingly been forced to accept this methodology. Anyone committed to objectivity must change their views when these are shown to be unobjective. More recently, this line of thought has gone from academic discussions to specific mechanisms designed to weed out contingent beliefs: privilege training, subconscious bias training, and whiteness training, for example.

In summary, the Marxian critique of liberalism is powerful and penetrating. It splits liberalism into two parts—an intellectual part and a social part—and shows a conflict. A person can’t be committed to objectivity and to social policies built around individualism. Liberals like Mill and Russell have tried to do both, often finding it difficult to do so, but Marx showed they are doomed to fail.

(I should note that Marx didn’t reject individualism outright, only liberalism’s version of it. He and co-author Friedrich Engels write somewhat cryptically in The Communist Manifesto that: “we shall have an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.” Nevertheless, his critique still applies: liberal individualism is an impediment to the pursuit of objectivity, thus making liberalism’s values incongruent.)

I’ll now leave this critique of liberalism and move on to a very different one.

***

Nietzsche’s Critique of Objectivity as An Impediment to Individualism

Nietzsche argued that Western society since the Greek philosopher Socrates has been obsessed with objectivity, which reached its pinnacle in the image of the all-seeing, all-knowing Christian God. (The physical embodiment of objectivity—the perspective from everywhere.) And so, as Christianity fades, so must our belief in objectivity. And while it might be painful, this is ultimately a good thing, because belief in objectivity limits human creativity and individualism. To accept an objective worldview—whether religious, moral, or scientific—is to surrender one’s own perspective; it’s an act of self-abnegation. In fact, part of the reason for Christianity’s success lies in it making self-abnegation a virtue. Eventually, individuals will emerge who are unapologetically self-driven and unobjective.

While Nietzsche echoes the Marxian critique of liberalism’s attempt to separate the intellectual and social spheres, his criticism runs much deeper than that. Marx extended the tradition of trying to achieve objectivity by removing distorting interests. Eliminating economic interests would eliminate unobjective beliefs (ideology), which in turn would lead to freedom. But for Nietzsche, this is wrong. It’s not a lack of objectivity that suppresses individual freedom, it’s objectivity itself. This follows from what it means for a belief to be objective—independent of the observer. But the more people’s thoughts and behaviour are determined by things outside themselves, the less freedom they have as individuals.

But this raises a difficult question. If liberals regard objectivity as a core value that they pursue in order to improve society, wouldn’t that eventually lead to a society where there is no freedom? For example, British philosopher Jeremy Bentham developed a moral system, Utilitarianism, where moral behaviour can be quantified in terms of pain and pleasure. While Bentham was no advocate for totalitarianism, it does raise a tough question: if suffering can be minimised and happiness maximised through a top-down system, shouldn’t it be enforced? The same applies to a lesser degree to various contemporary social justice measures, which liberals have consistently had to wrestle with. But it’s also simply a consequence of the ongoing effects of liberalism, which have been accumulating for centuries. The European Union is a good example. Its formation was built around rational decisions to improve economic activity and minimise the potential for armed conflict. Yet, the result is a more universalised system where decisions are made centrally, and local identity and decision-making have been reduced. Not only does this minimise the decision-making influence of the individual, but it also reduces local identity. This is a far less direct consequence than, say, implementing Utilitarianism, but arguably the end result is the same: a gradual implementation of objective measures ultimately leaves no room for particularism of any kind, neither individual nor local.

It makes sense to view the growing resistance on the right through this lens, I think. Many people are finding their local perspectives removed in favour of intellectual and social universalism. On top of that, people on the left are trying to push the universalism even further. Liberalism is already taking away national and cultural identities through globalisation, and then people on the left exacerbate the situation by tearing down statues and declaring nationalism bigoted. Liberalism is already putting pressure on traditional gender roles through changing work environments and the fall of blue-collar male occupations, and then people on the left exacerbate the situation by declaring masculinity toxic and attacking traditional family structures as oppressive. Liberalism is already tearing down ethnic unity through immigration, and then people on the left exacerbate the situation by attacking whiteness and trying to dismantle it.

(Of course, people on the left are doing this is in part because they believe they’re attacking elements that are preventing the embrace of universalism. Nevertheless, it’s clear that at least in the short term the interests of the left and right are diametrically opposed.)

Accompanying this is a culture of self-abnegation that has seeped from the left and into parts of the mainstream, manifesting itself in an increasingly all-encompassing concern over privilege and the valorising of victimhood. The natural response is for a growing number of people on the right to become sceptical of universalism, both intellectual and social, and instead embrace particularism. Trump, for example, has been unapologetic in his adoption of an “America first” strategy, essentially replacing the universalist perspective of his predecessors with a more local perspective from which his decisions derive. Something similar can be said of the many nationalist movements that have grown in popularity throughout the West.

(It should be noted that Nietzsche, as a staunch individualist, wasn’t in favour of nationalism. Nevertheless, his critique helps us understand the problems with objectivity and universalism.)

In summary, the Nietzschean critique of liberalism is powerful. Like Marx’s critique, it rejects the separation of the intellectual and social spheres. But it’s far more direct in rejecting the liberal belief that objectivity and individualism are compatible. Liberals who are committed to objectivity will invariably find that there’s no place for individualism in their systems—not in their intellectual frameworks, and not in their social structures. To rationalise this, self-abnegation must become a prime virtue.

***

Possible Solutions

How will this play out? It seems clear to me that liberalism will continue to come under pressure from both the left and right, and that it might not prevail. An incongruent value system will eventually be exposed as such, and both the Marxian and Nietzschean critiques suggest that liberalism is indeed incongruent. Liberals should take these critiques seriously and avoid brushing off people on the left or right as misguided. Superficially, it seems that liberalism offers a compromise between the left and right, but closer examination shows that it satisfies neither. It will need to integrate their critiques more fully in order to prevail.

One might argue that postmodernism is an attempt to do just this—to combine elements of Marxian and Nietzschean thought in order to rescue a version of liberalism. French philosopher Michel Foucault, who referred to himself as a Nietzschean on occasion, has been very influential on the left, but it seems to me the Nietzschean elements it has adopted are superficial, evidenced by its intense focus on privilege and social justice. The fact that there’s such a strong pull on the right suggests their concerns haven’t been addressed.

A different argument might be that a religious framework is necessary for solving the problem. The concepts at issue—objectivity, universalism, self-abnegation—are central to many religions. German philosopher G. W. F. Hegel, whose ideas helped shape the intellectual environment both Marx and Nietzsche were responding to, was influenced by Christian mysticism, for example. (In mysticism, self-abnegation is illusory because the self, in its physical embodiment, is illusory.) That said, it’s difficult to reconcile a religious framework with modern science.

Finally, what if there is no possibility for integration—what if one of these lines of thought must prevail over the other? If it were the left, I suspect we’d see a gradual shift towards an increasingly totalitarian society. Not the simple totalitarianism of past communist regimes, but a more sophisticated one built around utilitarian concepts that seek to minimise harm and promote well-being. It’s not difficult to imagine some of the mechanisms currently emerging from universities into broader society—unconscious bias training, microaggression lists, hate speech limitations, equity mandates—gradually expanding into a totalitarian system. And who can argue with reducing harm and promoting well-being? It might simply be the case that individualism is a naïve idea, and that a confluence of scientific and moral advances eventually produces an objective moral system that supersedes it.

What if the right were to prevail? It’s difficult to imagine what that would look like, because our notion of progress seems inextricably tied to a move towards objectivity and universalism, and therefore that any move towards particularism would just be temporary. (Although this notion of progress might be quite recent.) That said, maybe the past few thousand years of human history have been like stretching out an elastic band that must eventually snap back, laying bare millions of years of tribalism. This strikes me as unlikely, but it’s certainly possible.

 

Uri Harris is a freelance writer with a MSc in Business and Economics. He can be followed on Twitter @safeortrue

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16 Comments

  1. Susan says

    I may be naive, but is Europe not becoming more nationalistic simply because thousands of immigrants a week pour into it, bringing illiberal cultures, birthrates 3-4 times European birthrates and an erosion of the generous welfare systems.

    • Sean Wilson says

      That’s a good part of it. The second part is that they’re trying to get rid of traditions and customs that these countries have held for centuries. We’re seeing a level of politically correct culture in Spain that they have never seen before. And it’s continually getting worse.

    • Thousands of immigrants pour into Europe every week and universalists attempt to accept them regardless of the migrants’ backgrounds – and, until recently, regardless of their stated intentions (though action to prevent their stay hasn’t borne much fruit).

      The nationalists reject the universalist arguments that these migrants should be accepted and that society must change in order to accommodate a more diverse people. The universalist position is abnegation of national identity, cultural identity, tradition and custom where it is offensive to the migrants. Anything which might offend or deter the happiness and fulfillment of the migrants has to go, they argue.

  2. TJR says

    An interesting read, but odd.

    I would argue that individualism and objectivity are not remotely incompatible. Indeed, individualism is a pre-requisite for objectivity. Without it you just get groupthink of one form or another.

    Of course, we might just be defining those two terms in different ways.

    • Morgan says

      Did you not understand the article?
      Objectively, not all ideas are equal. Therefore, individual ideas about how things work must be suppressed in favor of the objectively correct answer. A great example of this is the flat earthers. They have their individual beliefs, but it’s clearly incorrect.

      • I’ll admit the nuance these definitions eluded me (in my defense, I was reading before the first cup of coffee took hold). Your comment helped.

  3. Max Rosen says

    Surely there must be a response to both of these critiques. The difficulty for Liberalism will lie in responding to them. The visceral appeal of social justice or of nationalism is much easier to appeal to the masses than any meaningful liberal argument.

  4. KP says

    This discussion seems very relevant to the book “The Master and his Emissary”, which argues that the left hemisphere of the brain deals with abstract things (the object world in your terms) and the right hemisphere with particular things (the individual). We need both, but they are incompatible and thus need to be separated into the two hemispheres. Further, the book argues that the right hemisphere is the “master” in that it serves as the base from which the left hemisphere operates. When the left or object goes off on it’s own (you could say objectivity that is not grounded in the individual) bad things happen.

    • James Lee says

      KP-

      I am reading that book at the moment, it is insightful and outstanding.

      Great essay Uri. You are touching on a core split in Western society from an intriguing angle.

      I also believe a key problem is one of scale. When a society or system becomes too large, the tensions between different value frameworks obviously increase. As Peterson argues, the EU is too big and centralized, with simply too much distance from the regular people who are impacted by its decisions. In the US, Jonah Goldberg and others argue that we need to return to Federalist principles, where different states can pursue different policies more consonant with their dominant values frameworks, free of federal overreach. Basically, a return to more local control, a variant of Switzerland perhaps.

      Of course, the federal system and the people who profit from it are highly unlikely to cede power back to the states. The rule of bureaucracies is to continually grow until they encounter another system of bureaucracy that can limit its growth, or until internal tensions become too great and the bureaucracy splits. Once Julius Caesar and then Augustus cut the power of the Roman Senate, no future emperor ceded real power back to it.

      So many of our current problems stem from the fact that for 99% of our human evolutionary history we lived in small tribal groups with Skin in the Game, direct accountability, and we routinely faced extreme survival threats which shaped our moral frameworks. Now we live in a radically different environment for which we are not prepared and in which we lack the tools to cope with effectively.

      The vast majority of us also don’t learn history and the history of ideas, even our elites, as philosopher John Gray points out. The popularity of Marxism after a century of horrors is shocking, especially when one considers that studies have indicated there are more Marxists in universities than there are conservatives. As a species, we appear to stumble from one catastrophe to the next.

  5. Peter Kolding says

    I do not believe the populations of the West are having a ‘values’ crisis, but a ‘behaviour’ crisis. The actual ‘values’ they hold are based simply on their own personal safety and liberty. It is the actions taken by indviduals or governments that deny or threaten their safety and liberty that produce a crisis.

    This, I believe, is the basic motivation guiding those who oppose ‘globalism’. The effects of globalist policies have not maintained or produced safety and liberty for a huge swath of the population, but the opposite. They are unsafe in their own streets, punished for incorrect opinions, and denied opportunities if they fail to be members of a privileged minority group. And then they are told that this necessary for their own safety and liberty.

    This does not produce a ‘values crisis’. It produces a behaviour crisis about how one can rermain safe and free in an unsafe and unfree society.

  6. Benjamin Kent says

    Very interesting read, and reassuring to see someone else connecting these dots.

    I’m of the opinion that the route to redeeming liberalism, objectivity, and individualism is through mysticism. Specifically, a Kierkegaardian response to Hegelian epistemology.

    Of course this requires a redefinition of objectivity. Objectivity is not a totalising God’s-eye view, but rather consists in useful contingent models motivated by subjective interests. In contrast to the radical tendencies of the postmodernists and the Frankfurt school, all this position really entails is a limitation of centralized authority, but that’s thoroughly liberal to the core.

  7. Human Sadness says

    If you want the future of america look at California. Completely dominated by democrats, minority majority, and the highest poverty rate in the nation. The neoliberal managerial elites intentionally flooded the nation with immigrants, this is because of three fold ideas, more votes for democrats, to provide a source of cheap labor to the jobs that could not be outsourced, also to keep wages down and everyone poor. If i were to compare the modern age to any other age in american history it would be the gilded age.
    The mainstream democratic party of today is a barely recognizable creature from its class warrior past: it worships giant corps like Amazon, participates in consumeristic gadget orgies, allows sexually disturbed men to use the ladies room, despises the working class, turns a blind eye to the offensive conditions of the foreign labor it relies on to save pennies on useless crap, and while yammering about human impact on the environment glibly accepts massive population growth and migration.
    The democratic party bailed out the banks, outsourced the factories, and privatized the prisons. The old neoliberal guard are seen as relics by the young hip bernie voting chapo trap house listening dem socs. Couple this with losing to reality tv show host and they smell blood in the water. A chance to seize the party. Much like trumps hostile take over and take down of the neocon establishment in 2016.
    The left sees the nation being torn apart by a mad man. endless war, mass deportations, gun violence, expanding poverty, the rich get richer, no health care, etc
    The right see their nation not only being atomized through multiculturalism but have been but have basically been a punching bag for the left some 60 years now. I guess eventually you go mad and just say “yea you know what i am racist””u mad”?
    America is a country were both the left and right are deeply depressed at their situations and the only people who seem to be okay with everything of course, are the bourgeois, the 1 percent, the ones who profit off it.

    You want to know a third option, the third future, the one that wont ever happen? How about the far right and far left unite as proles and the go march to the rich side of town instead of fighting about statues and video games.

    Now that would scare the shit out of the manager wouldn’t it.

  8. My grasp on philosophy isn’t as strong as I think it needs to be to fully appreciate the article, but the limitations of liberal democracy is something that has returned again and again as a seemingly unsolvable problem in conversations with others who think about these sorts of things. Nationalism sees an obvious flaw in the mass importation of immigrants from distinctly illiberal cultures which use the rights afforded them by the host country to undermine its native culture, traditions, and eventually sovereignty. If liberty is the ultimate goal, closing the border or restricting immigration to preserve the liberty of a country’s citizens from illiberal influence, seems to represent a restriction on the liberty of those same citizens. But the nationalist solution also seems to make the faulty assumption that the threat comes only from outside. A quick look at foreign policy, the university, or competing global interests (both economic and cultural) gives the impression that, even in a Western country with a limited immigration policy, illiberal ideas thrive within its own citizenry. Nationalists, I think, would contrast Western countries with Japan or the former Eastern bloc; the obvious explanation being that immigration has eroded national identity and led to atomized societies of competing interest groups rather than one with a shared identity, culture, and interest in self preservation. Douglas Murray argues that Eastern Europe’s proximity to 20th Century totalitarianism is at least partially responsible for those countries’ resistance to the pressures of external cultural influences. Proponents of free markets argue that open borders and the economic growth that follows from free trade and free association (i.e. a reduction in worldwide poverty) acts as a natural bulwark against tribal violence, but capitalism seems unequipped to address the preservation of cultures, which makes sense since capitalism is an economic system. Most libertarians I’ve known, though, have had little interest in culture or shared identity. This might be fine in theory, but if immigration is only open in one direction (towards the richest countries from the poorest), how can we be sure the rescue boat won’t sink beneath its immense cargo before it reaches the safety of the shore? It’s the Ship of Theseus problem put another way.

    A few years ago, I thought of myself as a pretty generic libertarian or classical liberal, but I find that I am unable to adequately respond to these questions with the old answers, and I’m worried our inability to resolve these contradictions in our societies will drag us back towards some kind of authoritarianism (if we aren’t already well on our way there).

  9. Gilded says

    No because liberalism only ever advocates for the status quo which is what caused the problems in the first place

  10. Rob says

    This article doesn’t address one of the core elements of liberalism – tolerance. Politically, the liberal project can be seen as an effort to create a society where people of differing values and interests can co-exist without being subject to coercion, oppression, and violence. At one time, that meant Protestants and Catholics living and working side-by-side without murdering one another. It came to mean co-existence of other identities and values. But a core value of liberalism is that in a diverse society there will never been consensus, so we need to cultivate an environment where people who fundamentally disagree with one another can get along.

    In that sense, liberalism is not easy. We’re a social animal with a deep craving for consensus. For conformity. Sharing our politics and our culture with people whose values we dislike, or even hate, does not come naturally. You need to be thick-skinned, and not prone to giving rein to your inner tyrant. But it can be done. The tremendous success of liberal democracy for the last 150 years or so demonstrates it can be done.

    And the notion that a culture cannot endure mass immigration is belied by the history of North America, where immigration rates peaked in the late 19th and early 20th century. Today, we may look back and see the Poles, Irish, and Italians who came to the New World as part of the same pan-European culture. But I assure you our great-grandparents didn’t see things that way. If you told an upstanding protestant of English or Dutch descent that he was culturally no different from a filthy, illiterate Italian or Pole, you’d get a punch in the face. They looked with dread on the waves and waves of uneducated, foreign-speaking immigrant families who had 5-6 kids each, came from countries with no history of democracy, and held the Pope to be their sovereign authority.

    We endured those transformations to society, and I’d wager we’ll endure the ones we’re experiencing today. Don’t let the distortions of social media, which magnify the most extreme voices in all debates, deceive you that most people today are angry and want to tear the whole structure down.

  11. Constitutionalist says

    A complete load a garbage philosophy to get to the end where the author suggests the imposition of leftist totalitarianism that is not the “simple” kind that murdered tens of millions of innocent people in Russia, China and many other countries. Oh no, this kind of leftist totalitarianism will be different because it is “sophisticated.” The reader is left without any supporting evidence and is expected to assume this “left” is much smarter than any other “left” that used murder, torture, starvation and imprisonment to enforce their utopian dreams on the unwilling. A long article for the typical argument “we” can do it better. As Thomas Sowell suggested, “The most basic question is not what is best, but who shall decide what is best.” Most in this country would prefer an individual choice rather than this authors leftist dream of power and control.

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