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Thoughts on the tyranny of liberalism

What is liberalism?

The view that equal freedom is the highest public standard, and that society should be a rational arrangement to put that standard into effect.

How can liberalism be tyrannical?

“Tyranny” is usurped and abused power. The goals of liberalism are comprehensive, and it views them as a simple matter of justice and rationality. It rejects social and religious traditions, and understandings of society and human nature, that set final limits to those goals. Liberalism is therefore progressive, it always wants more, and it recognizes no ultimate limiting principle. Its demands become ever more far-reaching and the means it uses more and more comprehensive and intrusive.

If all that is so, it seems obvious that at some point liberalism will become tyrannical. When it does its preference for step-by-step reform will obscure the radicalism of what it is actually doing.

How does the tyranny of liberalism come about?

  • In a liberal society the only values that can be publicly recognized are equality and what people want. All public actions have to be justified by reference to liberal standards. Martin Luther King day observances go on for weeks, but Christmas has to be renamed Winter Holiday. As a result, people who aren’t philosophical liberals can’t act publicly on their view of what is real and important. In whatever affects other people they have to act on convictions that are not their own.
  • Since liberty and equality are unlimited in their demands, what counts as public action that infringes them constantly expands. Every infringement is a violation of rights, so it has to be stopped. The workplace, for example, is now considered part of public life, and saying something counts as action, so if you talk about religion in somebody’s workplace that can be harassment. (Note that every place is somebody’s workplace.)
  • Equal freedom includes doing away with every kind of social discrimination. That means public attitudes have to be controlled and transformed. One result is penalties for “hate speech” and other new “hate crimes.”
  • Another result is that tolerance and celebration of diversity, as those things are more and more expansively understood, become basic goals of education. Students have to be taught to make liberal public values their own. Otherwise hatred and bigotry, the view that there are better things than equal satisfaction of preferences, will spill over into public life. The liberal values that were intended to free us from compulsion thus become compulsory, and as their demands expand they leave very little room for anything else.

What are examples of liberal tyranny?

  • Political correctness in all its forms. The constant attempt to re-engineer public attitudes.
  • Government programs that radically change society imposed without popular consent and often with severely restricted discussion. These include affirmative action, mass immigration, and the abolition of the family as a recognized social institution distinct from partnership.
  • More generally, the abolition of the authority of non-market and non-bureaucratic institutions, especially those that go to personal and social identity: family, religion, traditional morality, and cultural tradition generally. Tyranny invariably destroys other social authorities that might limit or compete with it. In this case the destruction proceeds by suppressing appeals to the authorities to be destroyed. If you appeal to religion or to specific cultural tradition you’re a theocrat, bigot, racist or hater, and if you act in accordance with those authorities you’ll inevitably make distinctions that constitute forbidden discrimination.

What are some consequences of liberal tyranny?

  • Collapse of intellectual, cultural and moral life, all of which depend on the authority and autonomy of culture, which liberalism destroys.
  • Loss of personal identity through destruction of enduring and important personal affiliations, and of the distinctness, authority and autonomy of social constituents of identity such as religion, “gender,” and particular culture.