February 4, 2012


Liberty, Equality, Hostility (GARY GUTTING, 2/03/12, NY Times)

[W]e have never gotten over the French Revolution.  The revolution introduced the basic liberal idea that government must be fundamentally democratic: that, as Lilla puts it, "we legitimately govern ourselves."  There is no sovereignty -- no king, no social or economic elite, apart from the people themselves -- that has ultimate political power.  We all, in principle, share in the power to govern ourselves.

But this idea led (or, at least, was feared to lead) to a much more radical one: that everyone should have an equal share in power.  Robin cites Edmund Burke: "The real object" of the French Revolution is "to break all those connections, natural and civil, that regulate and hold together the community by a chain of subordination."   Conservatism derived from the fear that the liberal project of democracy would destroy all the traditional privileges of men over women, employers over workers, rich over poor, educated over uneducated, whites over other races, and the like.

We are all today liberals in the sense that we accept universal political inclusion.  But we also tolerate and even support various forms of inequality, which amount to different degrees of political power.  Differences in wealth, education, job, gender, race and age all in fact correspond to differences in power.   Hardly anyone thinks all of these differences are bad, but conservatives on the whole think we have gone far enough or even too far in eliminating them, while liberals think that we are still far short of a proper distribution of power.

The Secret Appeal of 'Downton Abbey': Why do we adore a celebration of the British pecking order? Because social class is as American as apple pie (THEODORE DALRYMPLE, 2/04/12, WSJ)

Americans like to think that they live in a classless society, which seems to accord better with the egalitarian promises of the Declaration of Independence. But this is nonsense: The Declaration promises people the right to the pursuit of happiness, not to happiness itself, much less to equal happiness.

The problem, however, is that marks of distinction and the fruits of effort tend to be hereditary, passed on from one generation to the next. Indeed, one of the reasons that people try to distinguish themselves in the first place is that they want to ease or improve the lives of those who come after them, particularly their own descendants.

So Americans uneasily both accept and reject the hereditary principle, a contradiction that's uncomfortable for them but very productive.

Contra Mr. Gutting, the Anglo-American model is premised on that pursuit--begin from equality of opportunity and the inequality of results is acceptable (within Christian limits).

The French-European model requires equality of results, even at the cost of our liberal values.

Mr. Gutting then is not ultimately noting a divide within liberalism but the way in which the Left has opposed liberalism, is, literally, anti-American.  

The struggle between the two models--in their variety of forms--was the Long War.

Posted by at February 4, 2012 8:12 AM

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