Responding to my previous post A Basic Guide to Liberalism and Conservatism, Part I, many commenters said that I had either failed to define “liberalism” or had given a bad definition. And blogger Winston Scrooge offered more substantial criticisms, from a position less friendly to conservatism.
I‘m grateful to these commenters for, whereas I remain convinced that my basic position is correct, their criticisms helped me to realize certain ideas were not expressed well enough. I have accordingly made some additions to my post, which you can read here.
But let’s talk here about defining liberalism. I say it’s a vast phenomenon. Zippy Catholic says it’s a simple principle that’s now injected into everything. Let’s discuss:
In a sense, everyone knows what it is. Liberalism is legitimizing deviant sex. It’s confiscating guns. It’s exalting nonwhites over whites. It’s rebelling against authority. It’s denying traditional religion. And so on. Everyone (in the Western world, at any rate) has an intuitive sense of the phenomena generally labelled “liberalism.”
It must be acknowledged that not everyone uses the word “liberalism.” Words like “neoliberal,” “progressive,” “leftist,” “socialism,” and others are used. But my post said that it would use the word “liberalism” to label the phenomena. Therefore I did provide a definition of liberalism: the system that encompasses the various positions identified above, and the other positions that we all know tend to go along with them.
Everybody knows what liberalism is. But they disagree about its essence or ultimate cause.
Having noted that all these positions may be generally described as “liberal,” we next ask, Do these positions have an underlying unity? Are they part of a system or are they independent? It makes the most sense to see them as part of a system, and my intent is to lay out as much of the system as I have time for in subsequent posts.
There is also the distinction between liberalism and liberals, people who embrace liberalism to a large degree. Every liberal holds some non-liberal views, so a liberal is not somebody who endorses the entire system. We know about liberalism not by looking at liberals, but by looking at the positions that are generally called liberal, or at least non-conservative. Pointing out that someone generally known as a liberal disagrees with a certain tenet that is said to be a part of liberalism does not prove that it it’s not really a tenet of liberalism.
It’s possible, for example, for a (genuine) Christian to hold many liberal beliefs. This does not mean that the rejection of Christianity is unnecessary for liberalism. It just means that this hypothetical Christian is worldly, a biblical term meaning to love some of the anti-Christian systems of the world. Liberals are often basically-decent people who (mostly) unwittingly become carriers of evil ideas they only partly understand.
In my view, then, liberalism is a vast system. It has something to say about just about everything, and it purports to be able to guide individuals and nations. Because of its success at remaining in existence, recruiting vast numbers of people, and becoming the generally-accepted way of thinking here in the West, this system must have a basic coherence. I believe that it is based on certain principles of thought, and that these principles have a certain superficial coherence and appeal, even though it turns out on closer scrutiny that they are largely false and inconsistent.
Therefore a dictionary or textbook definition of the word “liberalism” is not useful here. The specific phenomena of liberalism are well known, even if under another name, and a brief formal definition fails to capture the vastness and comprehensiveness of the thing. And if liberalism has an essence or basic cause, conventional definitions fail to identify them.
One could define liberalism to be what the dictionary says it is. But then it fails to be very interesting or important. I’m interested in the vast phenomenon, although I do see a connection between the thing defined in the dictionary and the vast phenomenon.
Zippy Catholic challenges me with the best of the competing definitions: While I see liberalism as a vast phenomenon, he sees it as a simply-stated principle—political action aimed at securing freedom and equality—injected like a virus into everything. For him, liberalism is this drive for freedom and equality.
Every institution is now committed to pushing freedom and equality. Every group now says it celebrates diversity and strives to empower the individual to be free to be whatever he wants to be. Therefore every group has been infected (“converged,” in official Alt-Right-speak), and the first thing for anti-liberals is correctly to identify the virus so that we can oppose it. Zippy sees my allegedly false (or perhaps just weak) definition as inadvertently protecting liberalism by distracting conservatives into continuing to tolerate the virus. What liberalism actually does in the material world is push for freedom and equality, and to fail to note this is to miss the actual battle being fought.
So I say liberalism is a big thing and Zippy says it’s a small thing with a big effect.
Well, liberalism is a virus that’s injected everywhere. And a lot of so-called conservatives fail to understand the danger of accepting the imperative to freedom and equality. But we can guard against the virus and understand and oppose the philosophical and spiritual principles that make the virus so successful.
Zippy’s doctrine is important and true as far as it goes (and it goes pretty far), but it doesn’t go far enough for me.
Besides, the virus wouldn’t be successful if the victim had not first been weakened into being susceptible. The political drive for freedom and equality is both a cause and an effect. People push for freedom and equality because they believe stuff. If they didn’t believe the stuff, they wouldn’t make the push, dont’cha think?
And a catechism, such as my post, does not necessarily need to jump in with the main thing first. Sometimes you need to start by laying a foundation. If you’re going to warn people about the drive for unlimited freedom and equality, you must first show the reader why they’re wrong.
Some also faulted me for my opening statement that liberalism is the rejection of the God of the Bible and of our traditional ways. This was intended as poetry rather than definition; I gave my definition of liberalism later, although some missed it. In addition to chiding me for an inaccurate definition, some commenters noted that nonwestern peoples generally reject the God of the Bible without being liberals.
True enough, but this post is situated within Western Civilization. The second sentence of the main body begins “As Christians, we understand,…” The post speaks to the men of the West. For us, God is the God of the Bible, which is why classical Western liberals historically majored in rejecting the God of the Bible. He was for them the only God worth rejecting.
And, more to the point, the system of liberalism still rejects the God of the Bible. Even if he continues to say that he honor the triune God, a liberal cannot agree with all that the traditional Christian religion teaches. If he does, he’s not liberal enough to merit the label “liberal.”