Hell hath no fury like a peaceable liberal whose peaceable cause seems to be losing—especially when that cause is represented by the liberal himself, as Hillary Clinton’s tirade in the guise of a concession speech in Manchester, New Hampshire, demonstrated. Liberals and liberalism are currently under siege in Western countries. So liberals are in a panic, and a panicked liberal is someone who loses his temper first and his reason next, as we are witnessing in Western Europe and the United States today. For more than two centuries liberals have been constructing a dreamworld, and making their home there. This dream is their substitute for a religion, and it is no easy thing to see one’s religion crumbling into dust before one’s very eyes (as liberals like to imagine Christians are seeing theirs). The European Union, Jean Monnet’s great liberal-bureaucratic-economic-technological construction, is falling apart more and more from one day to the next—the inevitable consequence of the historical and political naiveté of its designers and the huge popular resentment the European project has engendered—while in America the two major political parties are fracturing and a significant portion of the Republican Party has rebelled outright against multiculturalist doctrine and political correctness, which it openly and even joyously mocks and defies. Democrats—the party of “tolerant” people—have never been able to abide mockery, especially when it comes from below, and they are more allergic still to ideological challenge. The resistance they are encountering across the political spectrum unnerves them: The bottom rail is suddenly acting as if it were on top! For liberals, not only are democratic politics “broken” (we need a “better politics,” Barack Obama opined recently) but the structure of political reality itself seems to be breaking down. The future was not supposed to be like this, and the way it appears to be shaping up looks to them like a civilizational catastrophe at the hands of the barbarians they’ve been keeping at bay for a century and more.
From the 18th century forward liberals have insisted that, to the extent that their prescriptions were followed, the world would become a progressively better place and arrive at last at a liberal utopia, the end of history. Early liberals in the 17th century wanted the rule of law, freedom of speech and freedom of print, freedom of religion, and the development of strictly utilitarian scientific aims and methods. In the 18th they demanded representative government and free trade, popular suffrage and popular sovereignty, and the recognition of the Rights of Man, what in recent times are “human rights.” In the 19th they wanted mass literacy, universal education, the secularization of government and society and the slow deconstruction of Christianity, and improvements in national and global communications for the purpose of furthering the international peace established by the liberal economic system of which they perceived free trade to be the mainstay, and man’s domination, control, and exploitation of nature by industrialism. In the 20th century liberals borrowed from the socialist program to argue for greater material and social equality and a national welfare bureaucracy managed by government agencies to end poverty and achieve universal affluence; for the dismantlement of the international system and the historical nation itself; for the abolition of war; for overcoming racial animosities through public education, propaganda, legislative fiat, and foreign aid; and for establishing the Brotherhood of Man by merging Third World populations with the nations of the West. Now, in the 21st century, “advanced” liberals, certain that the natural world is infinitely malleable and that human beings have no fixed nature, are working to reinvent nature, including human nature itself, as the latest stage in the Promethean project of ceaseless progress and human triumphalism.
In the United States—the apotheosis of liberal democracy—the old European Liberal Dream was reinvented in the 1920’s by a popular historian as the American Dream, usually understood as the quintessentially American faith that American history, under the guiding hand of God Himself, is the divinely ordained story of unflagging national and individual betterment, from one generation to the next. After World War II the American Dream became the International Dream, embraced first by Western Europeans; then, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, by the peoples of Eastern Europe; and ultimately by the rest of the world (though scores of millions of non-Westerners today, unwilling to abide the fullness of time, are eager to hasten the historical process by emigrating, legally or illegally, to the West).
In the context of liberalism’s history and liberals’ confident promises of a brilliant future for mankind, their present malaise, anger, and ill-concealed desperation are entirely natural. The peoples of the world, even those from the parts of it that are not liberal, like China and Russia, are living in the World That Liberalism Made; but that world is not the one liberals have been promising these past 200 years.
The plain fact of contemporary history is that every dream ever cherished by liberals has become either one of those prolonged frustration dreams in which the dreamer tries vainly to move or speak, or an actual nightmare. Popular democracy, the democracy described by Tocqueville (who was an aristocratic liberal), is rapidly becoming populist democracy in the United States and Europe, to the horror and disgust of liberals everywhere for whom only a democracy directed and managed by liberals is an acceptable form of government and society. Goaded to fury by the excesses of advanced liberalism, Hamilton’s Great Beast, the people, is stirring itself at last on behalf of a distinctly illiberal—but commonsense and realistic—politics. What European politicians, bureaucrats, and media inevitably call “the far right” has its direct counterpart in the United States, where the long-neglected, ignored, or scorned Republican base heaves upward like a tectonic plate beneath the smugly assured and infinitely condescending GOP establishment. By no means are all of these rebels democrats in the liberal sense, as the strong-arm approach of their preferred candidate, the billionaire builder from Queens, New York, to the question of political means, as distinguished from popular ends, shows. Liberals themselves have historically shown a weakness for undemocratic practice in pursuit of what they pretend are democratic ends. Now they are being taught a lesson out of their own McGuffey Reader, and they aren’t liking it much—the more so as their tutors come from among the ranks of the untutored.
Like the democratic part of “liberal democratic capitalism,” the capitalist one is floundering badly, economically and politically. Free trade, which failed catastrophically in 1914, is failing again a century later as “global capitalism,” whose financial strategists have concentrated on exporting the productive engines of national wealth abroad and importing foreigners to run what remains of them at home, thus eviscerating the domestic productive base and the native labor force. The results include the obscene enrichment of the financial sectors of national and international economies and a halt to the progressive economic betterment (and so to the related prospect of relative economic equality) that liberalism is imagined to guarantee. These in turn threaten the liberal project of achieving social and political equality, and also the resources and the capacity of the liberal welfare state. Free trade by whatever name is the culprit here, while “free trade” agreements like GATT and NAFTA have failed spectacularly to promote international peace and comity, as generations of liberals have promised they would. Lucrative trade between the United States and China has scarcely averted increased military rivalry and animosity between the two superpowers, and in Western Europe what the French call “Anglo-Saxon economics” in combination with the antiprotectionist bias of Brussels have badly gutted the French economy while engendering a strong nationalist reaction against these things.
Historically, liberalism has insisted that greater economic, social, and cultural contact between nations promotes their mutual understanding and good will. World history proves the opposite: To meet and to know the Stranger is more likely to lead one to despise and hate him than to admire and love him. What appears to be a general rule of human nature is reinforced by liberalism’s messianic tendencies. The more the West interferes around the world to deliver democracy and “human rights” to politically backward peoples, the more its intended beneficiaries resent and resist it. Modern communications, social media especially, have not promoted international peace and good will. Instead, they have incited hatred and violence by transmitting provocative information and rumor in seconds and sparking revolution, riot, bombings, and beheadings around the world. The notional fiction of the Universal Brotherhood of Man never anticipated radio, television, the internet, the iPhone, Twitter, Skype, etc. In this respect international relations are like marital ones: Too much communication is at least as dangerous as too little of it. So far from the collapse of the Soviet Union and the rise of the European Union having introduced what Western liberal leaders fancifully imagine to be “21st-century norms” of international conduct, instant communications have cooperated effectively with immutable human nature and crusading liberal democracy to ensure that the practices of war and peace remain as they have been since the dawn of history. Even liberals acknowledge that the world has rarely, if ever, experienced so many simultaneous crises as we are witnessing at the start of the globalist third millennium.
International unrest is mirrored at the national level, including the once relatively peaceable countries of the West where liberals’ putative attempts at achieving ethnic and racial reconciliation have produced exactly the opposite effect, often by intent. By encouraging racial and ethnic minorities aggressively to assert their identity and champion their various “rights” and interests against those of the white majorities, liberal politicians, from political self-interest, have cynically divided their populations by turning demographic elements against one another, while creating a new identity group of racialist whites—some of whom are followers of Donald Trump and admirers of Nigel Farage and Marine Le Pen—whom they seek to exploit for further political advantage, irrevocably fracturing their national polities. Indeed, among the greatest Western race-baiters are many racially “tolerant” liberals, expert at manipulating racial feeling to achieve electoral advantage while simultaneously gratifying their pathological hatred of Western peoples and the civilization they built over three millennia.
The education of the young is among the most basic and straightforward of human endeavors, yet even here liberalism has failed miserably. Education has two basic elements: a traditional curriculum and rigid discipline. For students incapable of mastering the first or intolerant of the second there are the trade schools, the Armed Forces, and menial labor. But liberalism, refusing to concede that a minority of children is practically uneducable and that an even smaller minority is capable of true learning, set about early in the 20th century diluting and destroying the old curriculum in the name of democracy, equal opportunity, and equality. American public education worked admirably well until John Dewey and the Columbia Teachers’ College came along. Letters home from soldiers in the field during the War Between the States attest to its success, and Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books suggest it. In those days universal literacy, largely entrusted to 15- and 16-year-old school “marms,” probably came as close to being realized as it ever has been in this country. Today, after a century of “progressive” education, 50 percent of American adults can barely work their way down a newspaper column, a large majority can’t locate Mexico on the map, and some college students think Franklin Roosevelt freed the slaves. About half of the time, when dealing with salespeople in recent years, I’ve been asked to spell my last name. And as early as 20 years ago, I read that the faculty of the Harvard Graduate School was complaining that graduates of Harvard College couldn’t write a term essay. From what I discern goes on in colleges today, what is taught there by the professorial staff, most of whom are liberals, is either wrong, trivial, stupid, immoral, or dangerous to the students and to society—or all of these things. Such has “liberal education” become under the exclusive tutelage of liberalism. It is hard to imagine that 200 years ago Jefferson, and many others, anticipated a time when a majority of American citizens could–and would—read Shakespeare and Burke for pleasure in their leisure hours.
The liberal dream of a world that, under the guidance of a liberal regime, would advance through ceaseless betterment to perfection is dead in the 21st century. Liberals feel its death in their bones, yet they can think of no response but denial and persistence in carrying on with their dead project while vilifying and deriding their opponents. Some of them, like Senator Sanders and his followers in their growing numbers, have embraced the Socialist Dream, liberalism’s historic rival on the left. Liberalism cannot survive the death of the Liberal Dream, and the smartest and most honest liberals know it. It must be very miserable to be a sincerely convinced liberal today.Originally Published by Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture MARCH 03, 2016