This is a very good article about the modern rise of illiberalism we’ve seen over the past few years. It has some great analysis of why it has happened, but this bit really caught my eye:
…Liberal civilization has in the past proved resilient when threatened by anti-liberal forces, and its institutions retain a remarkable capacity to adapt. (Again, I am not speaking of “liberalism” as shorthand for positions aligned with the Democratic Party, but in the broader philosophical sense.) As a set of legal norms and economic principles—and, more important, as a cultural force—liberalism remains overwhelmingly dominant. Classically liberal ideas about the limited power of the state and the inherent rights of citizens have expanded into nearly every corner of the globe since 1776. Liberalism has vanquished every significant rival that has stood against it since then, and a succession of liberal powers has presided over world order…
Indeed, it has presided over the world – and has given us this newest version of illiberalism. Just as it gave us, in turns, Napoleon (the 1st and 3rd of that name), Bismarck, Imperialism, World War One, Communism, Nazism, World War Two and the Cold War – not to mention things like the break up of the family, the destruction of the working poor, the rise of the super-rich and governments which are so absurd that they propose to tell us how much salt to put on our food. I hate to break it to Sohrab Ahmari – the author of the piece – but if Liberalism triumphs again over it’s Illiberal opponents, it will simply go on to new and more spectacular disasters. Built in to the very concept of Liberalism is all the harmful things seen today, and witnessed over the disastrous 20th and 19th centuries.
Now, someone can answer back at me that the United States is a liberal democratic republic – and that is, indeed, correct. But the United States is different – or, more accurately, was different. I still stand in awe at what the Founders did – and wonder, at times, if Divinity moved them as they worked out how to govern the United States. You see, the United States worked as a Liberal entity because built in to our Constitution were various mechanisms which, for quite a long time, prevented Liberalism from being broadly imposed upon the American people in their day to day lives. From 1787 to 1913, with the temporary exception of the Civil War, most Americans never interacted with Federal power except via the Post Office. There was no one in DC who could tell a local community how to educate their children, how to build and maintain their roads, how to manage economic activity – let alone how to decide what is to be on the school lunch menu, or what bathrooms people are to use. Grasp that – we went from a people who only got involved with the Federal government when we purchased a stamp to a people who have to ask the Federal government for leave to turn around.
And that is why Trump has risen – because when government is that overwhelmingly powerful, people feel powerless…and people who feel powerless get fearful and angry and lash out. Some times in irrational ways – but underneath even the most irrational examples of anti-government/anti-establishment feeling is the rational understanding that the people are being cheated by a government which proposes to do all, but can really do no more than payoff those who have bribed the government, and oppress those who haven’t got the scratch to offer a bribe.
The problem with Liberalism is Liberalism. That is, it is fundamentally flawed. It proposes that we can create a great society if we just put smart people in charge to manage things. It doesn’t acknowledge tradition; it rejects the concept of Original Sin; it doesn’t understand that people just want to be left alone – and what I mean here is that people want to be left alone to manage their own affairs. Even if some liberal sage in a faraway city can prove with mathematical certainty that the yokels in Nowheresville are just a bunch of ignorant, hate-filled, bigoted morons…those morons still insist upon living how they want to live. And if someone comes along and proposes to tell them how to live, they are going to get mighty upset about it. And when they get upset, they will cast about for something to fight against what they perceive as unjust interference in their lives. And, all too often (as we can see), they’ll fall for someone who is actually just an outgrowth of Liberalism…someone who takes some particular point of Liberalism and carries it out to its logical (though rather insane) conclusion. They fall for this because at least there is an acknowledgement of righteous anger – an understanding that all is not well. But we can’t cure iliberalism with a more hearty dose of the Liberalism which caused illiberalism to rise up.
The cure for what ails Liberalism is Conservatism. Conservatism is not about just hankering for the past – it is about refurbishing what has decayed. It is reform in its truest sense: a restoration, and thus a revolution. To put it in a nutshell – until a day comes when an American citizen does not risk a federal government fine for collecting rain water in a barrel, Liberalism will continue to create illiberalism. The key to a safe, rational and just society is in people being able to decide for themselves, on the local level, what is to be done. Yes, I understand that the Constitution does provide for some rather intense federal interference in local matters – but properly understood, this interference is only to be used in making sure that individuals, small groups and local communities are free to choose their own way of living. It is most emphatically not an instrument which will usurp the ability of local communities to work out their own destiny.
We become Conservative and restore what we’ve lost, or we fall under tyranny – Liberal or illiberal is immaterial…what benefit to any free person that Target Group A is punished under Liberalism while it is Target Group B which gets it in the shorts under illiberalism? A Conservative society is one where no one is targeted unless their individual actions merit such a thing. Take your pick of what you want – but if you pick is to defend Liberalism (as the author noted, not in the sense of Democrat Party dogma, but the broad, underlying dogma of Liberalism), then all you’ll get is one form of disaster, or another.