August 17, 2020


Conservative Liberalism: The false dichotomy between conservatives and liberals is distracting citizens from the real threat, which is to liberalism more broadly (Vaughn Bryan Baltzly, 8/17/20, The Bridge)

The most natural application of the label "liberal," I hold, is to the great politico-philosophical tradition that contains multitudes: Adam Smith and also J. S. Mill; Thomas Paine and also Edmund Burke; Alexander Hamilton and also Thomas Jefferson; Friedrich Hayek and also John Maynard Keynes; John Rawls and also Robert Nozick. And yet, within this diverse group of thinkers, there is a coherence. Indeed, liberalism comprises a vision of government as secular, limited, representative, and constitutional, and a vision of citizens as free and equal.

It's a tradition that unites many foes who until recently would have considered themselves warring partisans--the Democrats and the Republicans of the 1980s, 1990s, or 2000s, for example, and even into the early years of the just-lapsed decade. And it's a tradition that has recently come under assault from multiple flanks in the United States. (I might group these warring flanks into two large groups named "the Right" and "the Left," were it not for my dissatisfaction with that particular labeling scheme as well--though that's a topic for a separate essay.)

These assaults have, for the most part, come to fruition in just the last five years (though they began brewing well before that). The attack on the liberal tradition erupted first within the Republican Party; its 2016 nomination of the anti-liberal demagogue Donald Trump seemingly betokened the party's abandonment of liberalism broadly construed. But the scale of that party's repudiation of liberal mores has been matched (and perhaps exceeded) by recent actions on the other side: the revolutionary Year Zero zeal now on display among many associated with the Democratic Party and its proxy institutions (e.g., the media and the academy) should give any genuine liberal at least as much pause as does Trumpism.

And if we're liberals in this broad, sweeping, grand sense of the term, then in one respect it is of relatively little importance that we be able to draw fine-grained distinctions among, or categorizations of, the sorts of illiberalism that currently threaten us. Scholars and historians may illuminate much by trafficking in such distinctions. Right now, though, concerned citizens have rather less need to keep track of the subtle or not-so-subtle gradations of the forces of illiberalism that threaten our republic.

That is why, despite its tautological vacuity and underinformativeness, "illiberalism" is still the most useful term for us to adopt. This vocabulary derives its utility largely from the fact that--by stripping from its title any of the qualifiers ("traditionalist," "progressive") that once served to subdivide its adherents--it thereby encourages these adherents to think of themselves as "small-l," "mere," or "no-label" liberals. Furthermore, it focuses the energies and aims of all adherents of liberty, equality, limited government, individual rights, personal responsibility, and the universal dignity of all. For it is time--it is past time--for liberals of all stripes to put old divisions (and terminological distinctions) behind them and to unite in an effort to resist the impending forces of illiberalism: to band together, in other words, in an effort to conserve our cherished and hard-won liberalism. too, at the End of History, do we have two Republican parties.

Posted by at August 17, 2020 5:57 PM