June 06, 2008
Liberalism views much of history as a morality play. The past was very bad. We are making progress. The future will be better. But every new achievement serves also as an indictment. The past is guilty of offending the liberal goals of inclusion and equality. As Lawrence Auster has noted, every advance of inclusion and equality is an indication of how the past up until this point was less inclusive and equality and that we still have a “long way to go.”
An Obama presidency, far from calming down demanding liberal interest groups, may instead add fuel to the fire. Moderates and establishment conservatives are confused. Why can liberals find so little to love in our country and civilization’s history? Why is every defense of the past and its heroes met with predictable bromides: “Well, it’s easy to be patriotic if you’re white and privileged. Most people didn’t have access to the good life in America’s past, and, even if more and more do, many still do not, which is the height of injustice.” The ending of certain inequalities and oppressive forces, including the ending of slavery, women’s suffrage, defeating the Nazis, and the magnanimous civil rights movement, are of no consequence. Far from decreasing America’s collective guilt, these liberal achievements add to the bill.
Why? Because liberalism does not permit a non-liberal definition of the good. To the extent nonliberal values like safety, peace, and prosperity are admitted as important political goals at all, they are always trumped by the liberal goals of inclusion and equality. Consider the liberal view of racism in the stark example of post-colonial Africa. Much of Africa was once under white-rule. By the mid-twentieth century this meant prosperity, efficient government, European-style capital cities, the rule of law, and rising standards of living for white and black alike. Since the overthrow of white rule in places like Rhodesia and South Africa, the continent has declined on nearly every measure of human flourishing: GDP, life-span, violence, and corruption. Nonetheless, the white-ruled past is considered more worthy of condemnation than the tragic present. In the comparison of broke, crime-ridden, and unstable “democratic” states with wealthy, safe, and orderly white-rule regimes, the latter always loses no matter how extreme the differences. Even if we admit that white-rule was both unstable and not entirely fair, its other merits cannot be considered. Liberalism proffers an ideological definition of the good that is immune to facts. Adherence to liberal aspirational principles always takes greater importance in this value scheme, and this unalterable commitment is a great cause of our present troubles.
Liberalism does not allow us to recognize an abiding reality: that the present is better in some ways and worse in others than the past, and, thus, in understanding our own society and that of other peoples, we must weigh the relevant factors. One can, in fact, compare Rhodesia and Zimbabwe. But, for a liberal, any such comparison is no contest. The present is obviously better, though we still have a long way to go. When we get there—wherever there is in the future—we’ll realize how backwards and illiberal we are today. Someday that self-satisfied future will itself be condemned by a superseding liberal future. Eventually, liberalism itself will have to collapse. By ignoring the other goods of political life, it will neglect them, as its votaries have in Africa. A serious post-mortem will not happen, however, whenever that comes to pass. Nothing could possibly happen that would change minds, because those minds are programmed with heuristics and categories and screwy moral reasoning that redefines the good in a lop-sided way. For liberalism consists above all in an exaggerated concern for a single aspect of justice—broadly speaking, equal treatment of all—to the exclusion of all other political and social concerns.
There is a vain hope by some conservatives that reasonable people that actually love this country and are fed up with being guilt-tripped all the time will finally wake up after something really bad and offensive happens in the name of liberalism. That some insult by liberalism will be a bridge too far. From the Watts Riots to the LA Riots to Bill Clinton’s corruption to Barack Obama’s long-standing affiliation with a racist church, this is very unlikely. Establishment conservatives are in the grips of the same liberalism described above. They have lost the vocabulary with which to define good government and human flourishing outside of the liberal ideals of inclusion and equality. Even George W. Bush cannot imagine fighting a war for the traditional reasons of revenge and national security. It must be for “democracy” and a fight against “evil.” We must prove it’s for democracy—not just ours but everyone’s—by sticking around Iraq and Afghanistan for nearly a decade to impose alien political institutions. Every terrorist attack by the ungrateful Iraqi people is met with attempts to exclude the perpetrators from the mass of the people; they are dead-enders, a small minority, terrorists, etc. Since liberalism is the good, the Iraqis must want it, and those that fight against our war are therefore not real Iraqis. For our liberal crusading President it’s very simple: Iraqis are people. People want liberalism. Illiberal people are malevolent, evil, confused, and never express a widely held view. Thus the Iraqi nationalist opposition that wants power to oppress its sectarian neighbors does not represent the will of Iraqis. But every Iraqi thinks this way about what to do with political power, even out “friends.” Liberalism blinds us to how most people do not want “freedom” and “democracy” but are, rather, tribal. They want tribal goods like wealth for the tribe and the subordination of hostile tribes. This is what democracy in the name of liberalism means to Iraqis, and this is what it means to most of the aggrieved minority groups that make up the Democratic Party.
Liberalism does not allow tangible failures to cause a reevaluation of the liberal hierarchy of values, because that hierarchy defines failure in advance as either growing pains or an improvement over the racist, exclusionary past. Iraq is one example. Gutted black-ruled American cities like Detroit are another. But the best example of this is Zimbabwe, formerly Rhodesia. It was once a nice, orderly place you might want to visit. Unlike South Africa some blacks could vote. Even those that couldn’t lived reasonably well compared to every other African nation. Under Ian Smith, the country’s government achieved all of the goods we expect of government and fought a good fight against Soviet-supported terrorists, but that regime was minority-ruled by the whites and wealthier blacks. It was abandoned and then castigated by liberal European nations in the name of liberalism. It eventually fell. Today, Zimbabwe is a hell-hole that is about to experience mass starvation. Yet for liberals, the past was worse than this, because the exclusion of the ignorant black peasantry from political power offends liberal principles of equality, while its present descent into anarchy and starvation does not.
If the horrors of decolonialization and black-rule in Africa did not wake up liberals—whose trendy cause in the 70s and 80s was fighting against Apartheid—why should we expect the more mild pains and inconveniences of Barack Obama’s rule to wake us up here at home?