You are here

The normality of liberalism

Why is something as radical as inclusiveness ideology normal, so that if you disagree with it you’re an irrational extremist? Here are some possibilities:

  • Everything is bureaucratic or world market-oriented today, and bureaucracies and world markets find it easier to operate on explicit quantitative impersonal principles that ignore complex human relationships like sex and ethnicity. It therefore seems irrational and even antisocial—opposed to the principles that make orderly common action possible—to take such relationships seriously.
  • Since everything is to be dealt with in a rational, explicit, quantitative, and impersonal way, everything important should be handled by experts. The duty of the public in a modern society is therefore to listen to what the experts tell them, believe it, and reject everything else as prejudiced and ignorant. Expertise is not as neutral as advertised, however. For example, experts can be relied on to favor handling bureaucratically everything world markets can’t take care of—otherwise their expertise can’t be brought to bear in a systematic way. It follows they will always end up opposing autonomous traditional institutions like family, religion and ethnic ties.
  • It’s troublesome to recognize troublesome issues, and experts don’t like to deal with things that have essential personal and particularized aspects. If the only way to avoid talking seriously about things like race and sex is to say they shouldn’t matter at all then that’s what people will say and they’ll be annoyed if anyone says different. If the authorities say the way to make them not matter is to reverse their effects through affirmative action or obfuscate their significance and consequences through diversity programs—that is, to lock race and sex preferences in place—it’s too much trouble to make a fuss. You’d have to think seriously about difficult topics, and besides, you can’t argue with the authorities about basic points without contesting the whole structure of expert social policy and thus the current understanding of rationality itself. And that would indeed be extremism.
  • Refusal to recognize the obvious of course requires doublemindedness. That sometimes bothers the Left, as in the case of women who say they’re not feminists but expect everything feminism can give them. Mostly though the tendency allows the Left to advance its goals while traditional forms remain intact. Mainstream American Christianity is an obvious example—doctrines are eviscerated or reversed, the faithful fall away in droves, and scandal succeeds scandal, while religious professionals call the changes churches an unprecedented gift of the Holy Spirit and the man (more likely woman) in the pew goes along out of fear of being odd, divisive, out of date, intolerant, resistant to change, or whatever. Any coherent protest would call too much into question and therefore becomes impossible. The schools are another example—the very ordinariness of schooling, and the faith Americans have always placed in it, means that anything whatever be done in the schools. As long as it’s what the experts want, people accept it.

All these things have to do with accepted understandings of rationality and knowledge, which are associated with dominant forms of social organization. As long as world markets and transnational or multicultural bureaucracies are authoritative throughout social life, and knowledge and rationality therefore identified with expertise, traditionalism will fail.

The basic difficulty traditionalists face is therefore the need to change what the dominant social structures are in major areas of social life, and what is understood by knowledge and rationality. The most likely way that will happen is through the self-destruction of liberalism as a philosophy and mode of social organization. How and when that happens is mostly outside anyone’s control. We can contribute though by developing an alternative and living by it. The battle for tradition today is most fundamentally a battle of the spirit and personal commitment rather than practical politics. We must insist on—and live by—a different conception of knowledge, reason and the normal.

Share/Save