Reports of liberalism's death -- A reply to Yoram Hazony (extinct political fashions)

C C Offline

INTRO (Cathy Young): 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? (MORE)
Syne Offline
Nationalist populism is only anathema to classical liberalism in Europe, where US-style limited government conservatism just doesn't exist. Hazony seems to be making the widely-repeated mistake of conflating liberalism with leftism. Classical liberalism does not give way to Marxism, except by perhaps being weakened and watered down by leftist notions of redistribution and other emotional arguments. When people forget that freedom is not a natural state, but has to be continually defended, they become ignorantly willing to trade freedom for security, equity, etc.. Conservatism naturally understands the fragility of freedom. Leftism obviously does not. Leftists whine about fascism, while giving their power away to fascists.

Classical liberalism is not vulnerable to thinking lack of equality is injustice, because classical liberalism accepts that, while there should be equality under the law, individual choices preclude there being an equality of outcomes. It's only when leftists start injecting idiocies like presuming everything is a zero sum game (hallmark Marxism) that liberalism becomes leftism. IOW, when people give up liberalism for leftism, that is not a vulnerability of liberalism. It's the propensity of idiots to be swayed by Marxist reductio ad absurdum. Liberalism still exists, it's just largely and increasingly found on the right.

Leftist idiots differ from liberals in that they never seem to learn anything beyond what they did in elementary school. Where sharing and being nice are the highest virtues, even if that means stealing from others in order to share and coddling criminals to be nice.

Those who give up liberal ideals for superficial equality are just traitorous liberals, at best, and never liberals, at worst.

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