Bewilderment in the face of liberalism’s growing tyranny

Kirsten Powers is right to worry about today’s liberalism, but she’s wrong about its central principles

Writing in USA Today, Democratic commentator Kirsten Powers worries about today’s liberalism. It promised free thought and reason, but it’s giving us suppression and mob rule. Also, it’s capricious. If you say harsh things about Christianity that’s OK; if it’s Islam, however, you have to be shut up. Support the natural definition of marriage and you’re unfit for decent society, but it’s no problem if you physically attack a teenage girl who’s holding an anti-abortion sign. Kirsten writes:

How ironic that the persecutors this time around are the so-called intellectuals. They claim to be liberal while behaving as anything but. The touchstone of liberalism is tolerance of differing ideas. Yet this mob exists to enforce conformity of thought and to delegitimize any dissent from its sanctioned worldview. Intolerance is its calling card.

As a basically commonsensical liberal, Powers finds it all inexplicable. She should stand back a little, maybe with the aid of her new-found Christian faith, and think the matter through. Liberalism isn’t neutral, and it doesn’t mean peace, love, and happiness. What it means is making supreme goods out of “freedom and equality”–in effect, people getting what they want, as much and as equally as possible–because more substantive goods are unknowable. It also means reconstructing the human world with those supreme goods in mind.

Principles have their own implications, and liberal principle takes us places the average liberal doesn’t intend. Freedom and equality are good up to a point, but they’re content-free abstractions, and their demands expand without limit when we make them the highest standard in place of the good life. And reconstructing the human world–“fundamental social reform,” as it is called–demands the open-ended use of force that ignores complaints from the people getting reconstructed.

The result is that liberalism, like the leftism of which it is part, ends in tyranny as it builds up an infinitely detailed network of supervision and compulsion to make sure we don’t oppress each other. Ms. Powers has no idea how moderate today’s liberals really are, all things considered. They may seem a bit odd, and not at all liberal in the way she would like, but they’re not nearly so violent as other progressives have been.


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About James Kalb 94 Articles
James Kalb is a lawyer, independent scholar, and Catholic convert who lives in Brooklyn, New York. He is the author of The Tyranny of Liberalism(ISI Books, 2008) and, most recently, Against Inclusiveness: How the Diversity Regime is Flattening America and the West and What to Do About It (Angelico Press, 2013).