In defence of liberalism: resisting a new era of intolerance

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Napp
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A rather good and extremely prescient piece on the assaults on liberalism by certain unpleasant elements of society these days.


It has become fashionable in recent years to talk of the death of liberalism. But as crowds high on the octane of generational self-righteousness rampage through major cities, the evidence mounts. The growing intolerance of freedom of thought, the inability to talk across divides, the way that most of the British establishment, police included, feels the need to pledge fealty to the cause — as though all terrified of ending up on the wrong side — points to a crisis of more than confidence. It is evidence of an underlying morbidity.

Each day the cultural revolution is picking up a pace, with the iconoclasts who attacked the Cenotaph and the statue of Winston Churchill looking for new focuses for their rage. The University of Liverpool has announced that its Gladstone halls of residence will be renamed after protestors pointed out that the former prime minister’s father had owned slaves. So there goes the ‘sins of the father’ ethic too. Nervous broadcasters have started removing programmes ahead of any stampede, with the BBC withdrawing Little Britain and HBO taking out Gone with the Wind from their streaming services in case the woke eye of Sauron flashes on them.

What we are seeing is nothing more or less than the death of the liberal ideal.

Of course ‘liberalism’ was always a broadly defined term; a definition made only vaguer by Americans making it synonymous with ‘left-wing’. But in the truest political sense it encapsulates most of the foundations of our political order, including (though not limited to) equality, the rule of law and freedom — including the freedom of speech that allows good ideas to win out. In the past few years, left-wing critics have been keen to identify what they see as the erasure of liberal democracy by popularly elected leaders on the political right. But in our own country, the much more serious assault on political liberalism comes not from the conservative right, but from the radical left.

Over the past couple of weeks, well-meaning people have poured almost a million pounds into the coffers of Black Lives Matter UK in the belief that they are helping a movement that will help black people. In fact they have funded a deeply radical movement. On its own fundraising page, BLM UK describes its aims as: ‘to dismantle imperialism, capitalism, white supremacy, patriarchy and the state structures.’ So as well as dismantling a nonexistent menace (‘imperialism’) it intends to bring down the economy and completely alter relations between the sexes (negatively characterised as ‘patriarchy’). This is not liberalism, but far-left radicalism of a kind that has become very familiar of late.

Where the liberal mind is inquiring, the woke mind is dogmatic

Some people watching events of recent days will have been surprised by how far and fast such sentiments have run. By the sight of a mob in Bristol tearing down a statue and then jumping on it. By a Labour MP saying: ‘I celebrate these acts of resistance. We need a movement that will tear down systemic racism.’ By the ranks of British police who could find no way to respond to this behaviour other than (in a newly invented act of faith) to ‘take the knee’ before it. And then there is the media, which has chosen to provide cover for such violence and purge from their ranks not just people who dissent from it but, in the case of the New York Times a few days ago, anyone who helps publish someone who dissents.

As one of the last liberals left at that newspaper, Bari Weiss, explained it last week, the over-forties in the news business (like so many others) imagined that the people coming up under them shared their liberal worldview. Then they discovered that these young people believed in ‘safetyism’ over liberalism, and ‘the right of people to feel emotionally and psychologically safe’ over ‘what were considered core liberal values, like free speech’. Actually the divide is even bigger than that, and now encompasses nearly everything. Where the liberal mind is inquiring, the woke mind is dogmatic. Where the liberal mind is capable of humility, the woke mind is capable of none. Where the liberal mind is able to forgive, the woke mind believes that to have erred just once is cause enough to be ‘cancelled’. And while the liberal mind inherited the idea of loving your neighbour, the woke mind positively itches to cast the first stone.

Readers of The Spectator have known this was coming. When this magazine first wrote about the Stepford Students, it was asked why we take this so seriously — surely the students would grow up? And they did: but they didn’t change. The virtue-signalling of large corporations — the growing legions of diversity officers and ‘implicit bias training’ — was also written off as the silliness of the corporate world. When we described the mandatory requirement in government to prove a ‘commitment to diversity’ in order to be eligible for any public appointment, it was greeted with the same dismissal. As the American journalist Andrew Sullivan (himself now seemingly muzzled, if not cancelled) put it two years ago: ‘We all live on campus now.’

Step by step, the UK came to have a public and private sector dedicated to the implementation of views which are barely distinguishable from those of the protestors who took to the streets in the past week or two. It’s an ethic which demands that our society play a set of impossible, unwinnable games of identity and ‘privilege’ that not only subvert but end any idea of tolerance.

All of this emanates from those who come out of university educated to loathe our society, believing it to be characterised by the oppression of certain groups by other groups: a shameful history and a shameful present. Today these people head into professions where their language of aggressive superiority (‘Educate yourself’) is used to intimidate their elders, force every-one to agree with their point of view and otherwise make themselves unsackable.

As with all movements that catch, they aren’t on to nothing. Inequalities and inequities do exist, here as in all societies. Reasonable people disagree about how to address this. But the new illiberal radicals do not share that worry. For them, every inequity that exists (financial, familial, social, neurological) is the result of the same thing: discrimination. A thing we must ‘tackle’, ‘eradicate’ and otherwise cleanse from existence. There’s an awful lot of work to do.

Even the woke analysis of history that now sees them scouring the land for more statues to assault is radically different from that of the liberal mind. Liberals understand that people in history acted with the knowledge they had at the time, and that the task of those looking back is to look on it with understanding, not least in the hope of being understood in turn. The woke mind abhors this. It knows that it is right, and that everybody before this year zero was a bigot. After the weekend’s vandalism against London monuments, the capital’s Mayor, Sadiq Khan, announced that his ‘Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm’ would sit in judgment on all racist statues in the capital. Within hours, the Museum of London had already brought in the cranes to remove an errant statue on West India Quay.

In such ways has the free exchange of ideas about our past and present been replaced by a series of demands and assertions that demand everyone else’s compliance. ‘Silence is violence’ is one favoured line, meaning that if you do not agree with the radicals, you are perpetrating an act of violence. Naturally this assertion comes from the same people who have spent a lot of time asserting that words (such as ‘mis-gendering’ someone) are violence. While the violence of the past few days is not violence.

It is on the lip of this trap that our representatives and public figures have teetered over the past week or two, unable to work out how they can avoid a step they intuit to be deadly. What they need to do is pause and fundamentally change the terms, basing their appeal not just on reason but on a truly liberal spirit. It should be one which emphasises that the claims being made are unjust. It is unjust to portray the whole of American society, in all of its complexity, as typified by a policeman who is awaiting trial for murder. And it is even more unjust to think that his actions reveal some deep truth about the British police, or the British state, let alone everybody who is white. Equally, it is not just unjust but vindictive to pretend that any contradiction of your world view is merely a display of ‘white privilege’, ‘white fragility’ or ‘white tears’.

Unwittingly or otherwise, those who use these terms subvert one of the last great additions to liberal thought: that aspiration expressed by Dr Martin Luther King half a century ago. For when Dr King talked about the need to judge a person by the content of their character and not by the colour of their skin, he gave us something that was not just a great moral insight but — in an increasingly diverse society — the only solution. A year before his death, Dr King gave a speech titled ‘Where do we go from here?’ in which he said: ‘Let us be dissatisfied until that day when nobody will shout, “White Power!”, when nobody will shout, “Black Power!”, but everybody will talk about God’s power and human power.’

The people who have come after Dr King have spent years busily inverting that dream. In the name of black agency they try to deny white people agency. In the name of assailing white supremacy they end up by asserting black supremacy. And in order to make up for the sufferings of people who are no longer alive they demand vast wealth transfers today based on racial grouping. It is hard to imagine a more divisive programme, all carried out in the name of anti-racism. What they are actually doing is busily re-racialising our societies. Which is how you come to the situation where a cabinet minister is quizzed on Sky News about the precise ethno-racial composition of the British cabinet and certain ‘anti-racists’ can be found on social media noting with disapproval the number of people of Asian descent in the cabinet.

Any movement that says ‘Things are so bad that this whole thing needs to be pulled down’ should be encouraged to realise, before they have to experience it, the cost of what they are abandoning. And to remember the central truth about how much easier it is to pull down than it is to build. They must be responded to by people of every skin colour and background with a polite but firm ‘No’. Not just because the things that they are attempting to pull down include the only things that are capable of holding us all up. But because if everything that got us here was so bad, then what we are living in wouldn’t be so unusually good.

https://www.spectator.co.uk/article/...of-intolerance
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Ascend
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But the new illiberal radicals do not share that worry. For them, every inequity that exists (financial, familial, social, neurological) is the result of the same thing: discrimination. A thing we must ‘tackle’, ‘eradicate’ and otherwise cleanse from existence.
That's a generous characterisation of Woke tribalism. It's not just discrimination but specifically white supremacy that they place at the heart of every political and societal ill. They empower this concept as much as or perhaps more than actual white supremacists do themselves.

For when Dr King talked about the need to judge a person by the content of their character and not by the colour of their skin, he gave us something that was not just a great moral insight but — in an increasingly diverse society — the only solution. A year before his death, Dr King gave a speech titled ‘Where do we go from here?’ in which he said: ‘Let us be dissatisfied until that day when nobody will shout, “White Power!”, when nobody will shout, “Black Power!”, but everybody will talk about God’s power and human power.’
:congrats: A true humanist.
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Ascend
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https://newdiscourses.com/
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Pinkisk
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He raises many pertinent points. I agree with a lot of them. One thing I don't agree with is this:

He defines liberalism as freedom, equality and the rule of law. He then proceeds to claim that these liberal ideals are dead, thanks to an onslaught by the the far left with its authoritarian, degenerate ideas and principles foremost of which is its attack on sex through concepts such as the 'patriarchy' (I love how he punctuates this word! Yes! Yes! Yes!). I agree that liberalism is dying thanks partly to an attack by draconian leftist ideologies, but I do not think that this is the main cause of its death. I think liberalism is committing suicide. I think it's mostly killing itself. Its death is a natural consequence of its core principles. You cannot achieve near absolute freedom, without suppressing voices that oppose this notion. You cannot achieve equality between different entities without discrimination. Liberalism is an oxymoron, a self defeating product of simple minds.

I have read the works of many icons of liberalism, people like advocate of paedophilia Michel Foucault, considered savants by many proponents of this ideology, and I laugh not only at the idiotic ways in which they interpreted life, but also at their view of the ideal world and the ways in which they led their lives. It's also worth emphasising that the concepts that he states are not liberal e.g. the 'patriarchy' are core in many branches of liberalism i.e. feminism.

Liberalism is a highly flawed ideology built on highly flawed principles developed by highly flawed individuals. It's a concept more becoming of the stone age than the 21st century.
Last edited by Pinkisk; 4 months ago
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Napp
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(Original post by Pinkisk)
Liberalism is a highly flawed ideology based on highly flawed principles developed by highly flawed individuals. It's a concept more becoming of the stone age than the 21st century.
Pray tell what is a preferable ideology then?
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Pinkisk
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(Original post by Napp)
Pray tell what is a preferable ideology then?
G_d is my preferable ideology.

(I don't care how many people this upsets and how many trolls it will attract to attack me).
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Napp
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(Original post by Pinkisk)
G_d is my preferable ideology.

(I don't care how many people this upsets and how many trolls it will attract to attack me).
Err you know that that isnt an ideology right?
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Pinkisk
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(Original post by Napp)
Err you know that that isnt an ideology right?
Please, don't make me have to emphasise and explain the obvious. I'm referring to religious interpretations of life i.e. religious ideology. I just want to leave it here if that's OK. I purposely do not want to be specific.
Last edited by Pinkisk; 4 months ago
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Iñigo de Loyola
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In the 1960s quoting Martin Luther King would get you attacked by racists in the Democrats, who fought for segregation and an expunged view of history that reflected their worldview.
Plus ça change!
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Napp
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(Original post by Pinkisk)
Please, don't make me have to emphasise and explain the obvious. I'm referring to religious interpretations of life i.e. religious ideology. I just want to leave it here if that's OK. I purposely do not want to be specific.
Bit weird saying something, on a forum of all places, but specifically refusing to clarify but whatever.
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(Original post by Pinkisk)
He raises a lot of pertinent points. I agree with a lot of them. One thing I don't agree with is this:

He defines liberalism as freedom, equality and the rule of law. He then proceeds to claim that these liberal ideals are dead, thanks to an onslaught by the the far left with its authoritarian, degenerate ideas and principles foremost of which is its attack on sex through concepts such as the 'patriarchy' (I love how he punctuates this word! Yes! Yes! Yes!). I agree that liberalism is dying thanks partly to an attack by draconian leftist ideologies, but I do not think that this is the main cause of its death. I think liberalism is committing suicide. I think it's mostly killing itself. Its death is a natural consequence of its core principles. You cannot achieve near absolute freedom, without suppressing voices that oppose this notion. You cannot achieve equality between different entities without discrimination. Liberalism is an oxymoron, a self defeating product of simple minds.

I have read the works of many icons of liberalism, people like advocate of paedophilia Michel Foucault, considered savants by many proponents of this ideology, and I laugh not only at the idiotic ways in which they interpreted life, but also at their view of the ideal world and the ways in which they led their lives. It's also worth emphasising that the concepts that he states are not liberal e.g. the 'patriarchy' are core in many branches of liberalism i.e. feminism.

Liberalism is a highly flawed ideology built on highly flawed principles developed by highly flawed individuals. It's a concept more becoming of the stone age than the 21st century.
:laugh: Foucault is not a liberal. He explicitly attacked liberal conceptions of power (in making power his defining theme).
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Ascend
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You cannot achieve near absolute freedom, without suppressing voices that oppose this notion. You cannot achieve equality between different entities without discrimination. Liberalism is an oxymoron, a self defeating product of simple minds.
Liberalism aims to maximise liberty to its greatest possible extent. It has so far shown to be the most successful ideology at achieving this. Your "religious interpretations of life", on the other hand, has demonstrably been amongst the worst on this front.
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Iñigo de Loyola
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(Original post by Ascend)
Liberalism aims to maximise liberty to its greatest possible extent. It has so far shown to be the most successful ideology at achieving this. Your "religious interpretations of life", on the other hand, has demonstrably been amongst the worst on this front.
Do you mean classical liberalism, neoliberalism or social liberalism?
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Ascend
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(Original post by LiberOfLondon)
Do you mean classical liberalism, neoliberalism or social liberalism?
All forms of liberalism have at their heart the maximisation of liberty. In terms of success, both classical liberalism (setting up the foundation for rights) and social liberalism (postwar extension of rights) have been instrumental in the West's flourishing by any historical measure. Neoliberalism, by moving away from social liberalism, has not been as fruitful.

Compare this to radical leftist efforts (the communist experiments), right-wing populism, nationalism and fascism, and religious theocracies. There's no contest.
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Iñigo de Loyola
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(Original post by Ascend)
All forms of liberalism have at their heart the maximisation of liberty. In terms of success, both classical liberalism (setting up the foundation for rights) and social liberalism (postwar extension of rights) have been instrumental in the West's flourishing by any historical measure. Neoliberalism, by moving away from social liberalism, has not been as fruitful.

Compare this to radical leftist efforts (the communist experiments), right-wing populism, nationalism and fascism, and religious theocracies. There's no contest.
I would say that social liberalism* and classical liberalism aren't compatible ideologies, as classical liberalism is very pro-free market, whereas social liberalism is a centre-left ideology.

* assuming by that you mean ”left liberalism” and not ”the bottom half of the political compass”.
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(Original post by LiberOfLondon)
I would say that social liberalism* and classical liberalism aren't compatible ideologies, as classical liberalism is very pro-free market, whereas social liberalism is a centre-left ideology.

* assuming by that you mean ”left liberalism” and not ”the bottom half of the political compass”.
This seems to me a modern romanticisation of "classical liberalism" that I see mostly come from 21st century libertarians and others on the right with a thirst for deregulation and lowering taxes. The reality is that many classical thinkers and architects of liberalism didn't restrict the economic theory to "very pro-free market". There's no consensus here. J. S. Mill, for example, adopted socialist stances in his economic Principles.

As a broad ideology, liberalism is defined more by its political rights than it is by economics or social concerns (where other ideologies can take over while still co-existing with liberal politics - hence the emergence of both social- and neo-liberalism). So, as long as civil liberties are protected by law and enacted equally and impartially, there's a lot of flexibility within a liberal state to experiment with economics and society.
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Iñigo de Loyola
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(Original post by Ascend)
As a broad ideology, liberalism is defined more by its political rights than it is by economics or social concerns (where other ideologies can take over while still co-existing with liberal politics - hence the emergence of both social- and neo-liberalism). So, as long as civil liberties are protected by law and enacted equally and impartially, there's a lot of flexibility within a liberal state to experiment with economics and society.
True. Correct me if I'm wrong, but are you saying that liberalism means the bottom half of the political compass?
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True. Correct me if I'm wrong, but are you saying that liberalism means the bottom half of the political compass?
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Image is not loading but I assume you're referring to the 2D spectrum:

Image

In which case, yes, I guess.

I'm personally a fan of the horseshoe spectrum:

Image
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Iñigo de Loyola
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Image is not loading but I assume you're referring to the 2D spectrum:

Image

In which case, yes, I guess.

I'm personally a fan of the horseshoe spectrum:

Image
I am, yes.

The 2D compass is useful as it recognises that the libertarian right and authoritarian left exist, but the horseshoe model is something I do also like.
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