Tuesday, December 07, 2004

The Triumph and Collapse of Liberalism

The historian John Lukacs has written of "The Triumph and Collapse of Liberalism."
What were -- what still are -- the sources of American distaste for liberalism (a distance from, rather than a disillusionment with, liberalism)? One was the gradual liberal acceptance, indeed advocacy, of the welfare state....Another source of the dislike of liberalism was anti-Communism. Just as the political advocacy of liberalism had moved closer to socialism, the ideology and foreign policy of liberals and Democrats often seemed (and were) more tolerant of Communism and the Soviet Union than were nonliberals and most Republicans. Liberals were, or seemed, less patriotic (more precisely, less nationalistic) than most Americans. And it is, of course, the viscous cement of nationalism that binds so many of the preferences and beliefs of masses of people together.

Beneath these political and ideological sentiments there was the sense, more or less apparent, of a general disappointment with liberal ideals. There was the inclination, sometimes fatal, of liberals to take the ideas of the Enlightenment to extremes: to propagate a public morality devoid of, if not altogether opposed to, religion; to insist more and more on institutionalizing the promotion of justice, at times even at the expense of truth; to emphasize freedom of speech, often at the expense of thought; to make abortion legal; to approve same-sex marriages and affirmative action.

To an increasing mass of Americans, "liberal" began to mean -- rightly or wrongly -- a toleration, if not a promotion, of what many considered to be immoralities.
To paraphrase, if you're going to stand for everyone's right to do anything, then you actually "stand" for nothing.

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