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Gottfried and Francis on p.c. liberalism

Sam Francis has a good review of Paul Gottfried’s Multiculturalism and the Politics of Guilt, a sequel to his After Liberalism. Or at least it seems good to me. I haven’t read the book, but I’ve read some of Gottfried’s other writings on the subject, and have some idea of what his views are. Not surprisingly, given the way scholars feel when told publicly—in a review that is of necessity much shorter and less carefully composed than the book reviewed—that they’ve misconstrued important aspects of their field, Gottfried doesn’t at all like what Francis says.

The issue between Francis and Gottfried is the origin and nature of today’s politically correct managerial liberalism. Gottfried is an intellectual historian with strong classical liberal sympathies. He tends to treat p.c. liberalism as the outcome of a specific historical background, particularly liberal protestantism. Francis is more of an analyst of power in the tradition of James Burnham. He therefore emphasizes the functional advantages of multiculturalism and political correctness in extending the power of ruling elites and disrupting competition based on traditional social ties.

For what it’s worth, I agree more with Francis, although I add a bit of a metaphysical spin with regard to an “eternal essence” of liberalism. The reason liberalism appears unquestionably true today, it seems to me, is that it suits the modern understanding of the world as an odd compound of atoms in space and human sensations and desires. It follows that you can’t fight liberalism effectively without an antimodern ontology. So I do agree with Gottfried to the extent he says that belief as well as social function matter, but it seems to me that the beliefs that led to the triumph of p.c. go much deeper than the specifics of protestantism. In particular, they are entangled with Gottfried’s own classical liberalism. And I agree with Francis that it’s hard to overestimate the advantages p.c. confers on our rulers.

In line with his general mode of analysis, Francis’ review tends to be value-free. He says, for example:

Indeed, if Gottfried were correct in his analysis that a majority of the population, influenced by their religious persuasions, has accepted the legitimacy and necessity of curing themselves and their institutions of various repressive pathologies he would have largely removed most grounds for objecting to what is going on. If most Americans support multiculturalism, why object to it?

Reasons aren’t hard to think of. Multiculturalism turns informal standards and ideals of behaviour into personal preferences and so makes them irrelevant to our dealings with each other. By doing so it makes men worse and society less functional. Virtues need the support of social habits and understandings that multiculturalism disrupts, and purely formal institutions like bureaucracies and markets aren’t enough for social survival.

Be that as it may, both the review and Gottfried’s writings on this topic are worth a look. It is becoming increasingly clear that p.c. liberalism is the main competitor to Catholicism today. If you care about one you should care about the other and you should read its best analysts—especially when they disagree with each other.

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