Thursday, February 2, 2012
Brief Notes: Liberalism
One of the questions batted around here recently has to do with the nature of liberalism. What does the word mean and what does it mean to those who claim it? While we know the classical meaning of the term and we know the contemporary meaning of it, in its post-World War II manifestation as “rights” liberalism, it is becoming less and less clear what it means among those who claim it today.
Classical liberalism, of course, was the political movement derived from the Enlightenment that sought the end of the Old Regime and the creation of a political system grounded in at least some measure of democracy. Thus classical nineteenth-century liberals favored such things as voting for officials of the state, a free press, freedom of religion, and free market capitalism. By this definition George W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, and Bebe Rebozo were all “liberals.”
What liberalism has meant since the end of World War II and since the rise of the Civil Rights Movement has been what is sometimes called “rights” liberalism. Because of the Nazis, because of the Holocaust, and because Black people fought like hell, a liberal became someone who believed not only in classical liberalism but in Civil Rights, Women’s Rights, LGBT, Environmentalism, regulatory capitalism and, of course, the Anti-War movement, all under the umbrella of universal human rights.
The notion of universal human rights, in fact, is the very key to western liberalism.
Traditionally, the home of classical American liberalism has been the Republican Party while the home of American contemporary “rights” liberalism has been the Democratic Party and the progressive movement. Part of what we are doing on this blog, sometimes explicitly but usually implicitly, is chewing over the failure of universal human rights within the western progressive movement in favor of the multicultural ideal.
Part of the reason that the progressive-left is turning against the Jewish state of Israel, aside from decades of relentless Arab and Soviet-influenced propaganda demonizing that tiny country, is because in the tension between western multiculturalism and universal human rights, multiculturalism is either winning out or it has won.
Thus, if we criticize the Arab world or the Muslim world for their violation of women's rights or their absolute contempt for gay rights, not to mention the 14 centuries of murderous abuse of the Jews, we are violating the central progressive tenet of multiculturalism and therefore deemed “racist."
And how can such a person possibly be a liberal, eh?