Philosophy, Politics, Top Stories

Reports of Liberalism’s Death—A Reply to Yoram Hazony

Funeral dirges for liberalism are all the rage these days: google “liberalism is over,” and you’ll discover a lengthy bibliography of books and articles that disagree only about whether it is sick, dying, or already dead. What is agreed is that liberalism—defined as the Enlightenment-based political philosophy rooted in individual rights, limited secular government, and equality before the law—has grown decadent and decrepit, buffeted by forces of nationalist populism on the Right and radical progressivism on the Left that it lacks the will to resist.

The latest addition to the literature of liberal decline is Yoram Hazony’s recent Quillette essay, “The Challenge of Marxism.” Hazony—author of the 2018 book The Virtue of Nationalism, and of last year’s anti-liberal manifesto “Conservative Democracy”—correctly identifies some Marxist elements in today’s “social justice” movement: the crude “oppressor/oppressed” framework employed to understand all human relations; the notion that both oppressors and oppressed suffer from “false consciousness” insofar as they remain unaware of the real power structures shaping their lives; and the belief in “the revolutionary reconstitution of society” followed by the disappearance of class conflicts. He also offers some useful thoughts on what makes Marxist ideology so dangerous: the reductionist view of social dynamics, and the lack of any clear idea of how utopia is to be achieved after the underclass has seized power.

But when the essay arrives at its lengthy concluding sections—“V. The dance of liberalism and Marxism” and “VI. The Marxist endgame and democracy’s end”—it transpires that Hazony’s real target is not Marxism at all, but liberalism:

It is often said that liberalism and Marxism are “opposites,” with liberalism committed to freeing the individual from coercion by the state and Marxism endorsing unlimited coercion in pursuit of a reconstituted society. But what if it turned out that liberalism has a tendency to give way and transfer power to Marxists within a few decades? Far from being the opposite of Marxism, liberalism would merely be a gateway to Marxism.

In Hazony’s view, this process is the result of liberalism’s nature. “Enlightenment liberalism,” he writes, “is a rationalist system built on the premise that human beings are, by nature, free and equal,” and these “self-evident” truths are rooted in nature and reason rather than “the particular national or religious traditions of our time and place.” Consequently, liberalism will always be vulnerable to the rational claim that any violation of equality is an injustice. Reductio ad absurdum, a male-bodied person who merely identifies as a woman can demand a place on a women’s athletic team (since arguments to the contrary would have to appeal to traditional concepts of “woman,” “man,” and fair competition) and anyone can demand admission to Princeton University (since arguments to the contrary would have to appeal to traditional concepts of private property, free association, and merit).

The result, Hazony argues, is that even liberals who detest Marxism (including its modern identity-based variant) are helpless before its onslaught because they cannot bring themselves to view any demand for equality as illegitimate. This makes them “supine lackeys of [the] Marxists, without the power to resist anything that ‘Progressives’ and ‘Anti-Racists’ designate as being important.”

It is true that many modern-day liberals reflexively bow before any demand or claim couched in the language of equality, just as many Cold War-era liberals felt compelled to concede that Soviet communism, however repugnant in practice, nevertheless pursued noble egalitarian ideals. But is this mindset endemic to “Enlightenment liberalism” or a distortion of it?

With his mocking reference to “self-evident” truths, Hazony takes a swipe at the liberal ideal articulated in the Declaration of Independence, but neglects the fact that it champions liberty as well as equality. It’s hardly news that these two tenets of Enlightenment liberalism often conflict, but those conflicts are resolvable and can even be healthy if the two elements balance one another. (To some extent, conflicting forces are essential to a dynamic culture.) It is only when the importance of liberty is diminished and equality comes to be understood as equality of outcomes—not in its original Jeffersonian sense of fundamental rights or of basic moral worth—that liberalism is in danger of succumbing to the radical egalitarian or “Marxist” temptation.

Hazony points to the French Revolution—presumably its 1793–94 Jacobin phase—and to “radical regimes in Pennsylvania and other states during the American Revolution” as evidence that Enlightenment liberalism began to turn Marxist even before there was a Marxism. But the Jacobin regime was a brief if bloody interlude in the French Revolution, and its ideological source was not the rationalist, liberal Enlightenment of Locke, Montesquieu, Voltaire, or Diderot, but the proto-totalitarian sentimentalist counter-Enlightenment of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who believed freedom lay in submission to the people’s mystically unanimous “general will.” As for the radical regimes Hazony finds in post-revolutionary America, they were small utopian communities that began with the Shakers who were millenarian Protestants, not liberal rationalists. (Secular socialist communes based on the vision of French pre-Marxian socialist Charles Fourier and British social reformer Robert Owen came later in the 19th century and got their inspiration from the Shakers.)

It’s also worth noting that Christian millenarianism (a belief in the imminent fundamental transformation of society, often based on principles of total equality and abolition of property) arose centuries before the Enlightenment. Medieval millenarian sects such as the Joachimites and the Dulcinians in the 13th and 14th centuries have been described as adherents of “religious communism”; so have Reformation-era movements such as the Hutterites and the radical Anabaptists. (The German Anabaptist preacher and theologian Thomas Müntzer, executed in 1525 for leading a peasant rebellion, was hailed as a proto-communist fighter for social justice by Friedrich Engels and honored accordingly in the Soviet Union and especially in East Germany, where his image graced a banknote.) According to Hazony’s logic, this implies that Christianity too has a fatal flaw that makes it susceptible to Marxist rot. Likewise Judaism, the ancient offshoots of which included the Essenes, a thriving sect in Judea around the start of the Common Era described in the 1908 Jewish Encyclopedia as practicing “communism.”

Meanwhile, Enlightenment liberalism, far from hurtling down a slippery slope to egalitarian derangement as soon as it won, took a very long time to extend equality of basic rights to the female half of the population and to many racial, ethnic, and religious minorities. Attachment to “particular traditions” led to the perpetuation of what most of us—Hazony surely included—agree were heinous wrongs, such as the enslavement of blacks in the United States and the colonial possessions of many European countries. To a large extent, it is awareness of these wrongs has made many modern-day liberals skittish about rejecting any claim of injustice that comes wrapped in the mantle of “civil rights” and “equality.”

Many of Hazony’s other arguments are bold leaps and unsubstantiated assertions. For instance, he writes:

In a liberal society, Marxist criticism brings many liberals to progressively abandon the conceptions of freedom and equality with which they set out, and to adopt new conceptions proposed by Marxists. But the reverse movement—of Marxists toward liberalism—seems terribly weak in comparison.

The “Great Awokening” of recent years certainly looks a lot like a “liberal flight” toward deeply illiberal—and possibly quasi-Marxist—far-Left views. But historically, there is no evidence that this movement is unidirectional; liberals’ romance with communism collapsed in the second half of the 20th century, and American and European liberalism had undergone a massive shift to the center by the century’s last decade. Even in recent years, the backlash against “political correctness” has hardly been negligible. It’s a little too early to declare defeat.

Even more baffling is Hazony’s apparent conviction that reliance on “reason alone” leads to the conclusion that a person with an intact male physique who self-identifies as female should be allowed to participate in athletic competitions as a woman (or that the definition of “woman” is culturally bound). Radical transgender ideologues would no doubt be pleased to hear that; but they are certainly not confident that reason will win converts to their position—they have tried to shut down debate on such issues on the grounds that the debate itself is intolerably injurious to the well-being of trans people. Does Hazony not know that reason is out and “lived experience” is in? Or that the “social justice” Left most certainly does not regard Enlightenment liberalism as a friendly ideology? Claims that the Enlightenment was a font of racism and that liberal values such as reason and individual autonomy are a part of “white male culture” are staples of progressive rhetoric.

Is it possible to find commonalities between liberalism and the “social justice” progressivism that Hazony and other critics classify as latter-day Marxism? Of course; among other things, modern liberalism strongly supports racial and gender equality, embraces secularism, and opposes traditional restrictions on the sexual behavior of consenting adults. But this hardly proves that liberalism is a “gateway to Marxism.” Plenty of viewpoints have commonalities with other viewpoints. In today’s post-Soviet Russia, for instance, many supporters of Vladimir Putin’s brand of authoritarian nationalism argue that Russian patriotism and Orthodox Christianity are entirely compatible with a sympathetic view of Russia’s communist and even Stalinist past. One such pundit and politician, Elena Yampolskaya, has argued that communism and Christian patriotism alike are oriented toward “faith” and “self-abnegation”—and, relevantly to Hazony’s thesis, that both stand against “the dictatorship of liberalism.”

Likewise, in the West, conservative critiques of the modern bourgeois lifestyle with its soulless consumerism, hedonism, and hollow careerism often overlap substantially with leftist ones. For that matter, Hazony himself explicitly embraces elements of Marxism, namely the idea that liberals who defend liberal principles are privilege-blinkered oppressors unable to see the harm their preferred policies are causing to the oppressed. In his version of this argument, the oppressive principles are secular public education, freedom of expression that extends to pornography, and free trade. The oppressed, meanwhile, are religious believers, (female) adult performers, and the working class.

*     *     *

A mere three decades after the liberal order’s post-Cold War triumph, discontent with liberalism is at a high point on both the Left and the Right. But it will be a while before we are able to judge whether this is a profound and fatal crisis resulting from liberalism’s inherent flaws (such as inability to correct systemic inequities, or to provide meaning and community) or a temporary ailment resulting from a convergence of bad decisions and circumstances (the war in Iraq, the 2008 financial collapse, the surge in migration). It is also possible that Western democracies are simply adjusting to the new realities of modern liberalism, including the decline of traditional religions, vastly expanded personal choices (thanks both to rapidly rising affluence and to changing societal attitudes), automation, and unprecedented access to information and public platforms.

Before writing off Enlightenment liberalism as a dead end, though, we would do well to remember what came before it. Almost everyone abhors France’s Reign of Terror, during which revolutionary violence may have killed as many as 300,000 people; but the French Revolution’s conservative critics rarely acknowledge the territorial and religious warfare that regularly erupted in Europe during the preceding centuries. Half a century before the fall of the Bastille, about half a million people from seven countries—mostly civilians—lost their lives in the War of the Austrian Succession (1740–1748), which broke out because the ascension of Maria Theresa to the throne of the Habsburg empire (Austria) was disputed and several other monarchs saw their chance for a land grab. A few years later, unresolved disputes from that conflict led to the Seven Years’ War, which killed about 1.3 million.

We would do well to remember the peacetime barbarism, as well. In 1757, Robert Damiens, a mentally ill servant who slightly wounded King Louis XV with a pen knife in a doomed assassination attempt, was subjected to hours of public torture (which included pieces of his flesh being torn off with red-hot pincers and boiling oil poured on the wounds) before being tied to four horses and ripped apart. Nine years later, François-Jean de la Barre, a 19-year-old destitute provincial nobleman, was beheaded for blasphemy after being found guilty of vandalizing a crucifix (a charge of which he was most likely innocent), singing sacrilegious songs, failing to kneel and doff his hat before a passing procession carrying the Eucharist, and keeping forbidden literature such as The Philosophical Dictionary. Mercifully, the more gruesome part of his sentence—having his tongue cut out—was merely simulated by the executioner.

Around the same time, a Protestant notary in Toulouse, Jean-Paul Sirven, was sentenced to be burned alive after being railroaded on charges of killing his mentally handicapped daughter, supposedly for wanting to convert to Catholicism. (The daughter was found drowned in a well; the evidence of foul play was less than flimsy.) Sirven and his family managed to escape, and Voltaire took up their cause until he finally managed to get the conviction reversed.

The litany of conservative complaints about Western liberalism bring to mind Thomas Sowell’s retort to corresponding gripes from the Left: “Compared to what?” Our pre-liberal past was far worse than our imperfect present, and attempts to build a utopian post-liberal future have invariably ended in regression to barbarism.

This does not mean, of course, that we should champion liberal-progressive monoculturalism. Hazony is correct when he argues that in order to survive, liberalism needs conservatism to keep it balanced and grounded. (If nothing else, I am increasingly convinced that the survival of liberal society depends on an education that imparts knowledge of history—by definition a conservative enterprise.) The problem is that when Hazony asks contemporary liberals to join a “pro-democracy alliance with conservatives” in order to hold off the neo-Marxist barbarians at the gate, he’s not talking about the conservatism of Ronald Reagan or Margaret Thatcher—an essentially liberal conservatism, the aim of which is to conserve classically liberal values. In America, he’s talking about the degraded national populism of Donald Trump, which is fundamentally un-conservative in a cultural sense (Trump is an agent of chaos who shares the Left’s scorn for “respectability politics” and stokes deranged conspiracy theories). In Europe, it’s the creeping authoritarianism of Hungary’s Viktor Orbán.

A little more than 40 years ago, in 1978, a very Hazony-like broadside against the Enlightenment and liberalism was delivered by the late Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the great Russian writer, thinker, and chronicler of the Gulag. In his commencement speech at Harvard University, Solzhenitsyn attacked the Enlightenment and the Renaissance for paving the way to communism by promulgating “despiritualized humanism” and “freedom from religion.” Not unlike Hazony, Solzhenitsyn warned that liberalism was helpless to resist the forward march of Marxist radicalism—communism, in this case—because it was compelled by its nature to be sympathetic to communist ideology.

A mere 13 years after that speech, the Soviet Union ceased to exist; the liberal West won the Cold War, thanks in part to the liberal conservatism of Reagan and Thatcher. In another dozen years, Solzhenitsyn’s anti-liberalism led him to embrace Vladimir Putin, the ex-KGB officer who presided over the destruction of Russia’s fledgling freedoms. Therein lies a cautionary tale.

 

Cathy Young is a Russian-born American journalist, author, and associate editor at Arc Digital. You can follow her on Twitter at @CathyYoung63.

Image: Statue of John Locke at University College London (wikicommons)

Comments

  1. Huh?

    The author is lost. Completely and utterly lost.

    The Right IS Enlightened Liberalism, and it is the strongest, by far the strongest choice of political economy in the Western World, even in the face of endless Illiberal attempts to discredit it.

    The Anglosphere has largely embraced EL and is in the process of rolling back the Commies, finding them well entrenched in a domestic game of whack a mole. Even Continental Europe is in on the game. The second largest movement in France, Austria, Italy, Holland, and others would all find very common ground with Boris and Donald.

    These are not Nationalist movements, the USA is a State but not a Nation. These are Nation-State movements who want to remain Nation-States, not multi-cultural quasi globalist social constructs.

    Even Russia plays that game, pushing Orthodoxy, Mother Russia, and tradition over a repugnant Cultural Marxist alternative. Not too many Woke in Moscow.

    Anyway, i found the author was missing the forest while telling us all about how wrong Hazony is about this tree and that tree.

  2. Though both Young and Herzony’s essays are fairly shallow, at least Herzony recognizes to some extent the magnitude and depth of the problem. With Young we are thrown back into the fog of unreality—into pretending that there isn’t any major problem at all, or if there is, it can be fixed with a simple change of perspective or emphasis. She writes, “It is only when the importance of liberty is diminished and equality comes to be understood as equality of outcomes—not in its original Jeffersonian sense of fundamental rights or of basic moral worth—that liberalism is in danger of succumbing to the radical egalitarian or “Marxist” temptation.”

    Well, a lot of water has flowed down the Mississippi since the first affirmative action programs began. And “multiculturalism” and all the theories Herzony calls Marxist, which are founded explicitly on an anti-liberal conception of group rights, have been enshrined by almost every state on earth for decades. Young is like the knight in Monty Python who, entirely limbless, refuses to admit defeat. What will she say when her head is finally chopped off? The cold hard reality is that we have a very deep and serious problem here—and liberalism has proven itself utterly impotent in defending itself against it. Is it any wonder that everyone is talking about “the end of liberalism”? The writing isn’t just on the wall, it’s in the law books, the text books, and even the history books.

    As for Young’s assertion that under liberalism liberty and equality can “balance” one another, the history of the United States over the past 100 years, and especially the last 50, does not instill in one much hope.

    To quote Robert Bork:

    Modern liberalism grew out of classical liberalism by expanding its central ideals—liberty and equality—while progressively jettisoning the restraints of religion, morality and law even as technology lowered the constraint of hard work imposed by economic necessity…

    The qualifications assumed by the founder’s generation have been gradually peeled away so that today liberalism has reached an extreme, though not one fears its ultimate, stage. ‘Equality’ has become radical egalitarianism (the equality of outcomes rather than of opportunities), and ‘liberty’ takes the form of radical individualism (a refusal to admit limits to the gratification of the self).

    Individualism and egalitarianism may seem an odd pair, for liberty in any degree produces inequality, while equality of outcomes requires coercion that destroys liberty. If they are to operate simultaneously, radical egalitarianism and radical individualism, where they do not complement one another, must operate in different areas of life, and that is precisely what we see in today’s culture. Radical egalitarianism advances, on the one hand, in areas of life and society where superior achievement is possible and would be rewarded but for coerced equality: quotas, affirmative action, income redistribution through progressive taxation for some, entitlement programs for others, and the tyranny of political correctness spreading through universities, primary and secondary schools, government, and even the private sector. Radical individualism, on the other hand, is demanded where there is no danger that achievement will produce inequality and people wish to be unhindered in the pursuit of pleasure. This finds expression particularly in areas of sexuality and violence, and their vicarious enjoyment in popular entertainment.

    He goes on:

    Individualism and egalitarianism do not always divide the labor of producing cultural decay. Often enough they collaborate. When egalitarianism reinforces individualism, denying the possibility that one culture or moral view can be superior to another, the result is cultural and moral relativism, whose end products include multiculturalism, sexual license, obscenity in popular arts, the unwillingness to punish crime adequately, and sometimes even to convict the obviously guilty. Both the individualist and the egalitarian (usually in the same skin) are antagonistic to society’s traditional hierarchies or lines of authority—the one because his pleasures can be maximized only by freedom from authority, the other because he resents any distinction among people or forms of behavior that suggests superiority in or the other.

    So the question one would like to ask liberals like Young is: when are you people going to wake up and acknowledge the enormity of the transformation that has occurred and is presently underway? When, just when, are you going to fully acknowledge the hell that postwar liberalism, “distorted“ or not, has created?

    We’re waiting.

  3. I think the main thing that tends to make liberals helpless to Marxist/Identity type arguments is residual Christianity (especially late Protestantism), which makes them susceptible to the Marxist framing of their demands as “compassionate”. The romantic altruism of Marxism that conflict, hierarchy, and inequality will evaporate in a post-Capitalist society is a yearning that has mainly Christian origins, and comes from a simplistic understanding of the origin of evil. See: https://www.spiked-online.com/2020/08/14/wokeness-old-religion-in-new-bottle/

  4. Yes, Bork had it right, and Cathy Young does fog up the windshield. Like so many “modern liberals” and libertarians, she cannot bring herself to get tough on totalitarian Marxism whatever its stripe. Her essay is oblivious as to how far totalitarianism has taken over our entire culture.
    Bork was exactly right: “Modern liberalism grew out of classical liberalism by expanding its central ideals—liberty and equality—while progressively jettisoning the restraints of religion, morality and law even as technology lowered the constraint imposed by hard work imposed by economic necessity…”
    With no restraints, we have ended up normalizing child porn and ignoring the destruction of our cities. Cathy and her liberal and libertarian friends simply have not noticed or, dare I say, do not care.
    I watched the “long march through our institutions,” from '65 when I was in college, to today. America is simply unrecognizable, and I will not depend on the Cathy Youngs to lend a hand to push back against the neo-commies.
    I still consider myself a classical liberal but with a difference, I have a backbone, believe in a flawed human nature not so malleable as we would like, believe our rights do not come from man, and I believe I can recognize totalitarian danger. Therefore I am a conservo-classical liberal.

  5. In America, he’s talking about the degraded national populism of Donald Trump, which is fundamentally un-conservative in a cultural sense (Trump is an agent of chaos who shares the Left’s scorn for “respectability politics” and stokes deranged conspiracy theories). In Europe, it’s the creeping authoritarianism of Hungary’s Viktor Orbán.

    I am disappointed in Cathy Young’s argument. It seems to be a weaker version of AntiFa’s “punch a nazi” mantra. So conservatives aren’t exactly Nazi’s in Cathy’s vision but they are “degraded”, “deranged”, and “authoritarian”. With friends like this in the fight against cultural Marxist hegemony in the West, who needs enemies.

    Donald Trump is a classic America liberal, well within America’s traditions and practices who has the audacity to question the post 1964 social revolution America has undergone, fueled by social permissiveness, victim-hood pandering, open borders and free trade.

    America between 1945 and 1964 was not an evil empire filled with an evil people. Trump is simply questioning the changes that have occurred since then and wants to bring back a more National and socially Conservative vision. And for this we need to endure a revolt of the liberal elites? A monomania of establishment media droning on about the Orange Evil One in the White House? Op Eds by the Anne Applesauces of the World, linking Trump to Hitler? The elite and corporate funding of race based riots with an explicit Marxist worldview? The empowerment of leftist street mobs by governors, mayors and attorney generals who refuse to prosecute violent offenders? The mumbling in the Atlantic and the NYT suggesting that Democrats should not concede the election results if they lose on Nov 04; an obvious cover for those who would try and use mail in ballots to delay certifying the election in some states and only certify when the right mail in ballots with the right boxed checked for the right party show up.

    Is this revolt of the elites really justified? For such a slight change in America’s domestic and foreign policies? It stuns me. It seems to be that people are doing it because they can, because they are bored, because they need to justify their lives with some sort of struggle, any struggle will do.

    There is a weird hubris in those that attack the national populists, an imagined correctness of view that is impossible to verify. Call it the Cult of Confidence.

    Why don’t we just let the voters decide?

  6. Cathy Young tends to write high quality essays, but I found this just a muddle. It’s pointing out the obvious, failing to provide any solutions and side stepping the sins of the Left. She’s fairly direct and specific in criticizing the Right, but the Right isn’t responsible for the failing of classical liberalism over the last 30 years. That’s almost entirely a result of the Left’s actions.

  7. Liberalism does not require an abandonment of common sense, even though that is precisely what is occurring.

    “The choice is not between order and liberty. It is between liberty with order and anarchy without either. There is danger that, if the court does not temper its doctrinaire logic with a little practical wisdom, it will convert the constitutional Bill of Rightsinto a suicide pact.

    Justice Robert Jackson dissent
    Terminiello v. Chicago 337 U.S. 1 (1949)

  8. Cathy’s anxiety is misplaced. She imagines traditional Christian morality is a threat and cites the excesses of preindustrial autocracy (drawing and quartering). What she really fears is the excess of modern totalitarian reaction (the gas chamber). Is she actually trying to make the case that conservatives want a return to devine right of kings, and auto da fe? No, she has anxiety that Trump supporters are turning into Nazis. So she won’t work with them (they are not Reaganites after all, as if she’d have found Reagan acceptable back in the 80’s). Rather her plan is to continue opposing Tump, which is to say her plan is to let progressivism march on.

  9. Yes, the strength of Hazony’s piece was his description of “the dance” in which the liberals are pushed steadily backwards. Any they can be pushed backwards because they think the philosophical differences aren’t so big, but in their ‘tolerance’ they are blind to the social consequences.

  10. According to Hazony’s logic, this implies that Christianity too has a fatal flaw that makes it susceptible to Marxist rot.

    Now that you mention it…

    The author does a good job with the individual trees. With the forest, not so much.

    I do admire how she saved her Orange Man Bad until the end though. Nice trick.

  11. It is amusing to consider an Israeli and a Russian debating Whiggism, the brand of ruling class liberalism that emerged from the Glorious Revolution of 1688. For them it seems 1688 is year zero and “stund null.” It ain’t so.

    Liberalism is the product of the English Reformation and the rise of Parliament that began when Sir Edward Coke entered Parliament in 1621 with an ax to grind against James I.

    By the 1630s liberalism was simply the fusion of the long standing idea that England was a commonwealth coupled with the idea that the ancient rights and liberties of Englishmen placed serious limits on the law and on the governing class.

    It was a fundamentally nationalist and republican narrative that featured the sovereignty of the governed expressed through their elected representatives, equal standing before the law, separation of church and state and liberty of conscience.

    Liberalism’s origins are fundamentally nationalist because liberalism assumes there exists a common culture that has already defined and limited the ancient rights that any given individual Englishman might legitimately assert.

    I could go on but I’ll end by linking the Massachusetts Body of Liberties of 1641. This document was the collective work of perhaps 20,000 English Independent (puritan) settlers in New England who wanted to establish a framework for government based upon their understanding of what the ancient rights and liberties of Englishmen were and with the objective of restraining the dictatorial authority assumed by their magistrates.

    Locke was a Presbyterian Grandee who was marginally involved int Rye House Plot and a Whig. His treaties were aimed at establishing a Whig not a republican government and God knows the Whigs have always been susceptible to both internationalism and corruption.

    By 1645, republican Independents like John Winthrop and John Milton in both Old and New England recognized that rights and liberties that were not soundly moored to the overall well being of the commonwealth inevitably led to anarchy. For all their faults, the Bible, and in fact Leveller, republics in New England that were the well spring of the American Revolution succeed while several Leveller Agreements of the People and the Commonwealth in England failed.

    Utopian millenarianism and antinomianism has always been liberal republicanism’s vulnerable flank. Christopher Hill says that the Soviet historians were much more interested in the English Revolution than they were with the French Revolution.

  12. Then liberalism shouldn’t make promises no system of governance is capable of delivering. Egalitarian dreams are little more than pipedreams when set against the basic biological reality that we are wired for fairness as a species, not equality. The best we can hope for is a level playing field, given that any movement to enforce equality is doomed to tilt towards the totalitarian.

  13. Yes that pretty much nails it Breathnumber.
    Liberalism (“liberal” in the classical sense of devotion to human liberty, with a private sphere protected by natural rights, the equal moral dignity of individuals, freedom of conscience, and a limited non-intrusive state) lost its connection to itself, it’s reason for being. Thus we see an abdication of fundamental principals such as free speech. We have purportedly liberal governments implementing so called hate speech legislation whereby opinions on ideas and religions are criminalised on the basis that someone might be “offended”.
    Bizarrely (here in NZ) such moves are supported by the empty shell of what remains of genuine liberalism - institutions like our (so called) Council for Civil Liberties.
    Cathy Young can’t see this fundamental failure of liberalism?

  14. The notion that liberalism must ultimately collapse in on itself and lead to either a dictatorship or Marxism only works, if one believes true liberalism embraces equality. It does not. True liberalism only embraces equality under the law. It does not embrace equality of outcomes, wealth, health or fame. The notion that liberalism favors equality of outcomes and must guarantee against disparate impacts is a modern day perversion. This perversion is not an inevitable result of liberalism but rather a result of malpractice.

  15. I just wonder if the author and the rest of us are living in the same reality. I support liberal democracy, yet I’m here, effectively now a dissident, and forced to conduct debate in the so-called “dark web”.

    And debate at this time is critical, it is the only way that our ideas and understandings can be properly advanced.

    Donald Trump is definitely not the reason most of us are forced into seeking out places where free speech still exists.

    But that is current reality. If you support freedom and democracy you are now a dissident.

    In the UK the “liberal democratic” party has proved itself to be both illiberal and anti-democratic. A stance matched, now, by most of those who describe themselves as “liberal left”.

    And the main reason for that is that they have abandoned the primacy of freedom and democracy, for the primacy of globalist ideology and diversity ideology etc.

    In fact one fundamental tenet of diversity ideology is that all cultures and their values are to be respected equally. Well, Western culture isn’t just the Hollywood films and theatre and the latest fashion. It also relates to the fundamental political structures of our nations, and to liberal democracy itself.

    In effect we have so-called “liberal democrats” who now fundamentally believe that liberal democracy is no big deal. What they are really interested in is advancing a globalist diversity agenda in the West.

    (Presumably a generation of kids have now been so educated. )

    And to do that they are prepared to oppress half the population and more. And to do that they are prepared to embrace authoritarianism.

    In fact if anything is liberal about them now it is that their liberalism is withdrawn from the majority population, and given amply instead, to minority groups in the nation.

    Which, in a way, flips liberal democracy upside down.

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