Liberalism can be understood as a view that evolved and triumphed in a contentious political environment through a sort of philosophical jiu-jitsu. It wins all arguments by not arguing but rather using its opponents’ own force against them. Liberalism claims it has no points of its own to make, it accepts all your points just as they are, and all it wants is to be able to do so, which requires you to agree to the general principle that all points everyone makes get accepted just as they are. Thereafter, of course, it turns out that for all points to be accepted equally everything has to be run by experts who claim to be neutral facilitators but nonetheless end up deciding everything important—in other words, by intrusive liberals. By then it’s too late. You’ve already in effect agreed than none of your points can have practical consequences, because that would deny equality to other inconsistent points and oppress their proponents.
Liberals, naturally, believe in their own strategy. It’s worked wonderfully well for them, so why not? One consequence of that is that it’s generally impossible for them to believe that fundamental principled objections to their views are possible. If you disagree with them and they’re genteel they’ll say you don’t understand John Rawls or whatever. If they’re not genteel they’ll just say you’re ignorant, malicious or psychologically disordered. After all, what kind of person would complain when everything he says gets accepted to the extent possible? Nonetheless, liberals do in fact have a comprehensive vision of what human relations should be like, together with the will to back their vision by force and insist it be followed in all aspects of human life. To say they’re not pushing views of their own is patently absurd.
What’s needed is something to break the spell that makes the absurd seem real. No doubt the best counter to liberal jiu-jitsu would be a collection of illiberal koans to break up frozen schemes of thought and bring one face to face with reality. I’m not the master who can put something like that together. Here’s the best I can do: a collection of pointed questions designed to dramatize the gap between what liberalism claims to be and what of necessity it is. Comments, additional questions, and other ideas are welcome.
- Government is needed when discussion and voluntary arrangements don’t work. So how can liberalism claim it’s based on discussion and voluntary arrangements when it’s a system of government?
- If liberalism is based on the deliberate consent of the people how come it tries to put as much as possible beyond popular influence, as shown by constitutional law and “international human rights”?
- Liberalism says it doesn’t force values on people. Why isn’t telling people they have to treat all values as equally valuable, but suppress values that claim to be better than other values, forcing values on people?
- What’s the difference between saying everyone has to treat other beliefs about God, morality and whatever as equally worthy, and saying everyone has to treat his own beliefs about God, morality and whatever as personal tastes and so not beliefs about those things at all?
- How can liberalism be tolerant when it’s always insisting on reforming things? If someone is tolerant doesn’t he leave things alone? Why all the rules, bureaucracies and re-education programs?
- How can “diversity” (recognizing and respecting real differences) be the same as “inclusiveness” (making things comprehensively the same for everybody)?
- Liberalism claims to free the human spirit and allow 100 flowers to bloom and flourish. If so, how come everything is becoming the same everywhere? Why do all educational and cultural institutions in advanced liberal societies adhere to the same orthodoxy? Where are the great monuments of the human spirit advanced liberal society has produced?
- Liberalism says the restrictions it imposes are OK because they only apply to public life, and you’re still entirely free in your private life. What can “private life” possibly mean when reform of attitudes and practices regarding sex and gender, and the re-education of children, are basic to the contemporary liberal project?
- To summarize: isn’t it obvious liberalism is very different from what’s advertised?