The liberals’ dilemma

At Quillette, Yoram Hazony concludes an excellent article with

Marxists will not be appeased because what they’re after is the conquest of liberalism itself—already happening as they persuade liberals to abandon their traditional two-party conception of political legitimacy, and with it their commitment to a democratic regime. The collapse of the bonds of mutual legitimacy that have tied liberals to conservatives in a democratic system of government will not make the liberals in question Marxists quite yet. But it will make them the supine lackeys of these Marxists, without the power to resist anything that “Progressives” and “Anti-Racists” designate as being important. And it will get them accustomed to the coming one-party regime, in which liberals will have a splendid role to play—if they are willing to give up their liberalism.

I know that many liberals are confused, and that they still suppose there are various alternatives before them. But it isn’t true. At this point, most of the alternatives that existed a few years ago are gone. Liberals will have to choose between two alternatives: either they will submit to the Marxists, and help them bring democracy in America to an end. Or they will assemble a pro-democracy alliance with conservatives. There aren’t any other choices.

Over a century ago, Juan Donoso Cortes had come to similar conclusions:  in the fight between liberals, Marxists, and conservatives (Cortes calls them liberals, socialists, and Catholics; I call them liberals, Leftists, and conservatives), the liberal position is untenable, because (as Hazony also argues) liberals have no ideological defense against the Left.

Oddly, I actually miss the liberals.  All of my writing has been directed against them, but I could only critique them because they had done the honest work of trying to articulate a political philosophy.  Their better representatives at least would speak literally, that is attempt to state truth rather than just signal allegiance.

I pause to remember two of the more sympathetic liberal types.  Among American political philosophers, there was the ideal of a liberal state standing above all factions, neutrally working to maximize the satisfaction of all.  I’ve often accused this stand of being dishonest, because liberalism wants to at once be a neutral arbiter and also one of the contenders proposing substantive policy.  Ironically, it is conservatism that has functioned more like procedural liberalism was supposed to, in that conservatism has come to accept any amount of egalitarian restructuring of society as long as the proper forms of continuity are respected.  Nevertheless, I miss American liberals of the Rawls tradition because they had committed themselves to a type of public reasoning that forbade them to identify good guys and bad guys but presumed everyone has some legitimate interests.

More attractive still were the tragic liberals like Isaiah Berlin who acknowledged that what they were offering was a truncated public human good, less satisfying to the spiritually ambitious than what conservatism and socialism claimed to offer, but the best that could be had in this vale of tears.

The connection between conservatism and liberalism is not ideological, but existential.  Both political philosophies founded themselves on a rejection of the prophetic pose.  Liberalism conceived itself in opposition to an idea of religious fanaticism; conservatism to political fanaticism.  The Left, by contrast, rises in the prophetic mode, denouncing existing order and limited goods in the name of abstract justice.  When they seize power, prophets never acquire responsibility for whatever order they make or retain; they switch to scapegoating mode, hunting down the reactionary sinners who must be delaying the eschaton.

Is it possible for liberals to see the Hazony’s logic and choose to ally with conservatives against the Left?  Theoretically, it would be difficult, due to liberalism’s dual role of arbiter and combatant, that tolerance is at once the ground rule to which all parties must submit and the special possession of the liberal party, for liberals to recognize the legitimacy of conservatism in principle.  In previous times, this didn’t matter, because the Right was sufficiently strong that its existence had to be acknowledged in practice.  Do liberals have the resources in their tradition to oppose cancelling the Right in its entirety now that their political allies have the power to do it?  (To be fair, I’m not sure that conservatives can grant liberals legitimacy in theory.  How could there be a right to what we consider subversion and impiety?  Two party democracy is a modus vivendi, not justified by any ideology but not necessarily suffering from the lack of such endorsement.  In any case, conservatives never claimed tolerance as our special boast; nor do we have any particular stake in democracy.)

Consider that liberals, even those that are now speaking out for free speech (something that today takes no little courage), insist that some positions are outside the pale of tolerance.  Regardless of how meekly and politely one speaks, free-speech liberals will support one’s cancellation for flagrant “anti-semitism”, “racism”, and a few other things.  This is “accountability”.  Liberals will often even see some validity to the new extended understanding of racism, according to which all institutions and most public figures are racist in some esoteric way.  They just don’t want “accountability” to come for moderate liberals like themselves.

Surely they must know that this position is untenable.  In fact, that’s something I like about them.  Neighbors in glass houses are the best kind, and it’s the ones without sin that you don’t want having access to stones.  They must accept customary limitations on their principle that intolerance is intolerable, but they cannot admit in theory that the abstractions of freedom and equality must be interpreted through the framework of an authoritative social order–that it therefore cannot be used to attack this social order–because admitting this would make them conservatives.

So they must defect Left.  There are many more Leftists than liberals anyway, and they are much more powerful.  The Left devoured the last of liberalism this spring when every private entity, every business, every church, every philanthropic organization, every club put out a Black Lives Matter manifesto and dedicated itself to fighting White Supremacy.  It was then that the United States embraced an openly totalitarian agenda.  Now nothing, no group of humans no matter how small, is allowed to devote itself entirely to apolitical pursuits, but all must be directed to a political goal.  Since the Obama years, we’ve heard increasingly often from Leftists that the “is no place for” dissenters from egalitarianism in X, Y, or Z.  Now it is really true that there is no social space left for us.

I hope these lockdowns last forever.  They’ve all made it clear what they think of my race and my civilization.  I never want to go to campus or church or downtown again.

7 thoughts on “The liberals’ dilemma

  1. Leftism has a power of mutation that constantly tricks liberal defenses. No matter what disguise we assume, the liberal sees a klansman whenever a conservative strides over the horizon. Or a witch-burning Puritan. But when a Jacobin dresses up as a Bolshevik, the liberal is completely fooled. And as soon as the liberal identifies the Communist as his enemy, the Communists will metamorphose into Antifa. I think this may happen because leftists and liberals are both ostensibly opposed to suffering, whereas conservatives see many forms of suffering in a positive light. This leads to the usual battle of “nice” people on one side and nasty people on the other.

    As you know, the question of liberal neutrality is far from theoretical in my present circumstances. I have good reason to wonder how many Leftist categories and terms have infiltrated the Liberal mind. As you examples show, once those categories infiltrate the Liberal mind, Liberals accept them as fixtures of impartial Reason. The Leftist category of Hate is the worst instance of this. Classical liberals drew the line at Hurt, not Hate. If a man didn’t break my leg or pick my pocket, what do I care about his thoughts.

    I’ve come to think of the Left as the Mob of Moralizing Morons, all three words in this title doing semantic work. They are moved with enthusiasms like a mob; they see the world as a battle between good and evil; and (despite their pedantry) they are lazy thinkers. Unfortunately the MMM is very dangerous and is now becoming an American Red Guard.

  2. “I hope these lockdowns last forever. They’ve all made it clear what they think of my race and my civilization. I never want to go to campus or church or downtown again.”
    In a nutshell.

  3. Pingback: The liberals’ dilemma | Reaction Times

  4. @Bonald – What you have described is a kind of trap for people like us. All the cultural institutions have – over the past fifty-ish years become corrupted to the atheist, left (evil) agenda; and in 2020 have become fully assimilated to the Global Establishment… So currently, these thoroughly leftist/ subverted and inverted institutions are being ‘finished-off’ by the (covertly Establishment sponsored) ‘extremists’. In response, many conservatives and Christians are falling into this trap, by rallying to the *defence* of organisations that are dedicated to leftist and anti-Christian goals.

    It is a lose-lose situation for Christians and win-win for evil. But this is the New Normal in a totalitarian world where serious Christians are few, thinly spread (geographically and across denominations), and weak.

    ‘Resistance’ is not going to lead to victory when They have *already* won; ‘Counter-revolution’ is the only thing that would work in principle; and in any such conflict They hold all the advantages (numbers, money, power, status, influence…). But it won’t happen.

    Of course Christians can and must do some things – but these things are at a personal and specific level, and are not really in the domain of public discourse and large institutions.

  5. I hope these lockdowns last forever. They’ve all made it clear what they think of my race and my civilization. I never want to go to campus or church or downtown again.

    One great benefit of the lockdown is that it has been much easier avoiding discussions with coworkers that might get me canceled.

  6. The reason why liberalism is vulnerable to leftism is the same reason why conservatism is vulnerable to liberalism and leftism.

    If the sacred book of your religion says an absurdity like “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal”, leftism is the logical consequence of this belief.

    For example, if people are equal, then the different ethnic groups should have the same incarceration rate. If this is not so, the only explanation is that some ethnic groups are unfairly incarcerated. Black Lives Matter is only the unavoidable consequence of the Declaration of Independence.

    If you believe in this dogma of equality and your entire civilization believes in this dogma, you cannot defend from leftism. Every attempt to defend from leftism implies the rejection of this dogma and this rejection is taboo, verbotten, unthinkable. “You are literally Hitler”.

    So people try to defend from leftism while holding this dogma with convoluted arguments, which is an incoherent and weak position so it is doomed to failure. You can write a book defending the current US prison system and the only thing that a leftist needs to defeat your ten years of study is a word: “Equality! Non discrimination!”

    Conservatism and liberalism are only two ways of dragging your feet on your way to the logical consequences of equality and other absurdities, which your civilization assumes as self-evident truths.

    The difference between conservatism and liberalism is a bunch of “unprincipled exceptions” (, exceptions to the dogmas of your religion. Conservatism has more unprincipled exceptions than liberalism, but every unprincipled exception is logically indefensible and, hence, it is doomed to be eliminated when your religion naturally develops to its logic consequences.

    This is why conservatism is replaced by liberalism and liberalism is replace by leftism. Nothing to see here. Move along.


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