Liberalism governs by pretending not to govern, and claims to do the opposite of what in fact it does. An example touched on in recent discussions is multiculturalism, which claims to celebrate all cultures—that is, all informal and inherited ways— but in fact empowers each of them to deprive the others of all significant influence. The result is that none can be functional, and we end up with a system of rule by rationalized formal systems of social organization like world markets and transnational bureaucracies, and by supposedly neutral experts, therapists and facilitators.
The point is rather abstract, and some clarifications may help. By “liberalism” I mean an orientation of social and moral life based on abolition of transcendent concerns and so reduction of the good to realization of desire and of justice to equal treatment of persons with respect to what they want. Liberalism, then, is giving everybody what he wants, as much and as equally as possible. It aspires to a comprehensive technically-rational reorganization of the world in the service of human wishes. One purpose of education today is to train people to see such a view as equivalent to rationality itself. “Liberalism” is thus equivalent to public moral and political rationality, as that is now understood.
Although such a view is therefore thought unquestionably and transparently rational, it necessarily obfuscates, because government tells people what to do and forces things on them they don’t want. If there are no standards that transcend desire, which is basis of the view, it’s not at all clear why people should accept compulsion. Liberal government therefore claims that it’s not really using force, it’s just being helpful. It can force years of propaganda and re-education on children, it can have millions of bureaucrats who control much of the nation’s wealth and devise and enforce comprehensive systems of compulsory rules designed fundamentally to constrain, control and alter social relations, but none of that is the use of force. It’s just tolerance, rationality, assistance, mainstream common sense and protection of the weak, and if you don’t like it there’s something really wrong with you.
Advanced liberal government is big government, and all the experts and public authorities are on its side. Where else is there so favorable a place for them? The system of obfuscation and reversal on which it is based has therefore become so comprehensive and so fundamental to what is presented as how things have to be that it’s impossible to see clearly. People accept it even though they have the feeling that something very odd is going on.
What’s going on is very odd indeed. Liberalism presents us with sordid idealism, bigoted tolerance, mindless expertise, moralistic permissiveness, dogmatic agnosticism, mainstream extremism, rigidly uniform diversity, radically elitist equality, totally administered freedom and compulsory established rebellion. It promises moderation but gives us overreaching. It prizes freedom of thought but insists on correct attitudes and suppresses contrary opinion as ignorant, irrational, oppressive and dangerous. In the name of autonomy, it makes the state control everything. Rather than popular rule, it promotes distrust of the people and reliance on elites answerable to no one, and instead of benefits for women, minorities and children, it delivers family collapse, children with no fathers, feminized poverty, and one in eight young black men in prison.
All those things, while perfectly evident, are invisible, or at least impossible to discuss in any fundamental and systematic way. People don’t want to take them seriously because do so would call in question the whole basis and orientation of the social and intellectual order now authoritative. After all, if secularism and technical rationality lead to insanity, and the appeals to the transcendent and to essential goods that those principles replaced are already known to be irrational and abusive, what’s left? It’s better or at least far more comfortable to avoid such divisive questions.
And so the destruction continues. The resistance to fundamental objections to the current order means that contradictions in the system must constantly be dramatized if it is to put in question. Traditionalists need talking points and snappy arguments. Here’s an initial list, to which others are welcome to add:
- If liberalism is tolerant why all the propaganda and re-education programs?
- If it is based on consent, why the emphasis on judges, experts, bureaucrats and theorists?
- If it is skeptical and empirical, why the demand for radical transformation of all social arrangements everywhere?
- If liberalism emphasizes the individual and unleashes creativity why does it make everyone and everything the same?
- How can “diversity”‘ (respecting differences) and “inclusiveness” (destroying the effect of differences) be consistent?
- If liberalism lets people choose their own values, how can it prescribe their opinions of others’ values?
- If choosing my own values is good, why does it become bad if I choose cultural cohesion and traditional sex roles?
- How can government be based on discussion as opposed to force when the point of government is that discussion sometimes does not work and force is needed?
- Equal celebration of cultures means that every particular cultural standard must be driven out of social life since otherwise one culture will dominate others. How is that situation different from the abolition of culture?
- What is the difference between saying someone has to treat all beliefs about God and morality as equally worthy, and saying he has to treat his own beliefs as personal tastes and thus not beliefs about God or morality at all?
- What can freedom in private life amount to if government claims the right to insist on the radical reform of family life and re-education of children? If the freedom of private life does not include the closest human relationships, what good is it?
- Liberals say public celebration of diversity does not violate conscience because in private people can still think what they like. Would it equally respect conscience if the Catholics ran things and insisted on public celebration of Catholicism while permitting private free thought?
- People value different things in themselves and others. Some value the ability to form and carry through personal life projects, others participation in group goals, others the pursuit of human excellence, others the love of God. When those views come into conflict, why is it neutral if the first view always wins?