The tenet of liberalism is freedom of the individual; everyone should be free to “be themselves”. Appealing - from the individual’s viewpoint. But whether it’s necessarily a basis for living together is less clear. What if your “being yourself” prevents my “being myself”? If your cultural norms imply a curb on my cultural norms, what does liberalism offer to help resolve our conflict?
Liberalism's basic flaw is that it provides no principles for resolving the contradictions that arise from it. Common sense can’t be relied on, because you and I may have nothing in common. Tradition can’t be appealed to, because liberalism is by definition freedom from tradition. And John Stuart Mill might have argued that a person has the right to act as he chooses only as long as he doesn't harm others - but defining "harm" is impossible; it's itself dependent on that person's individual moral code.
An entertaining example of the dilemma is the recent arrest of a street preacher by a community support officer, in Workington. The preacher was exercising a legal right to express his religious beliefs – which included the view that homosexuality is a sin. The officer was gay, and exercised a legal right to not be discriminated against as such.
When the unstoppable cannonball hits the indestructible wall, there are only two possible outcomes: the world ends, or the puzzle turns out to be a false one. In liberalism’s case, the lazy answer is like the former (“The country’s going to sh*t!”). The better answer is along the lines of the latter: the solution to liberalism's problems cannot be formulated without contradicting liberalism itself.
Laurence Auster has coined the idea of the “unprincipled exception” to describe what happens when the liberal mindset - confronted with a dilemma of it’s own making - temporarily abandons its liberal principles in favour of a slapdash solution – typically an unashamedly illiberal appeal to the absolute (“It’s just wrong!”)
Such a response is necessarily weak, because it's made in a void. So, for example, the expansion of what is to be considered sexually “normal” has – in the liberal language of individual freedom – no way of formulating its own boundaries. Why not, after all, allow a human to marry a dog? Why not allow this new inter-species couple to adopt children? If you’re really for radical equality of all sexual orientations, your current horror at the antics of Catholic priests will eventually be seen as old-fashioned. Liberalism is expansionist - by its very nature.
There are of course many leaps of humanity that have taken place under the aegis of liberalism. Abolition of slavery and emancipation of women, to name two. But whereas the idea that it inexorably leads to a social good is arguable, its illogical nature is not. Am I, for instance, at liberty to be illiberal? No. Why not? Ask a liberal, but he won’t have an answer. Or, none better than “because it’s just wrong to be illiberal!”
Liberalism is a corrective - not something that itself builds civilisations. It’s like a good massage: it relieves pain, but it’s no way to keep fit.
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