Precinct 333

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Leo On The Death Of Liberalism

John Leo offers the following analysis of why liberalism is essentially dead in the United States -- it is bereft of new ideas. Noting that John Kenneth Galbraith once made a similar observation regarding conservatism, Leo points out the difference between Conservatism 40 years ago and liberalism today.

Conservatism revived with great intellectual ferment and a long burst of new ideas, and liberalism presumably can do the same. But there is no sign that this is happening. No real breakthrough in liberal thought and programs has occurred since the New Deal, giving liberalism its nostalgic, reactionary cast.

Worse, the cultural liberalism that emerged from the convulsions of the 1960s drove the liberal faith out of the mainstream. Its fundamental value is that society should have no fundamental values, except for a pervasive relativism that sees all values as equal. Part of the package was a militant secularism, pitched against religion, the chief source of fundamental values. Complaints about "imposing" values were also popular then, aimed at teachers and parents who worked to socialize children.

Modern liberalism, says Harvard political philosopher Michael Sandel, has emptied the national narrative of its civic resources, putting religion outside the public square and creating a value-neutral "procedural republic." One of the old heroes of liberalism, John Dewey, said in 1897 that the practical problem of modern society is the maintenance of the spiritual values of civilization. Not much room in liberal thought for that now, or for what another liberal icon, Walter Lippmann, called the "public philosophy." The failure to perceive the importance of community has seriously wounded liberalism and undermined its core principles. So has the strong tendency to convert moral and social questions into issues of individual rights, usually constructed and then massaged by judges to place them beyond the reach of majorities and the normal democratic process.

The result, Leo notes, is a liberalism that is more concerned with finding vast conspiracies to explain liberals being out of power. Liberals blame the rest of us for being too stupid, racist, or religious to recognize that they are right and the rest of us are wrong on the great issues of the day. And such a focus keeps liberals from finding the real problem, namely that liberalism is no longer moored to the values that Americans hold dear. We haven't left liberalism, it has left us.


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