Tuesday, April 19, 2005

The trouble with contemporary liberalism

One of the great riddles of liberalism is how it went so wrong.
There was a time when liberalism was noble and honest and genuinely concerned with the whole of humanity. It wasn't all that long ago, either, in the historical sense.
Liberalism responded with the idealism of the New Deal in the wake of the Great Depression. While not perfect, it did provide a lot of honest opportunity at a time when it was rare.
Liberalism in the U.S. propelled the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s.
Liberalism first raised questions about the U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Yes, some of it went way over the top, but the conduct of that war by the Johnson administration was a Constitutional abomination.
How did liberalism of then turn into the liberalism of now?
Hereinafter, I will use the terms "contemporary liberal" and "contemporary liberalism" to describe the current state of affairs, as expressed politically by the dominant wing of the U.S. Democratic Party and in Canada first by the ruling Liberal Party, but also by the New Democratic Party and the Bloc Quebecois.
Contemporary liberalism convinced itself that it was the font of all moral rectitude because of its stands on civil rights and Vietnam. It then assumed the belief that anything else it supported was morally right and that those who disagreed were morally inferior. Basically, it began to believe its press clippings, an always delusional approach.
This delusion also emerged from a phenomenon that David Lebedoff explored in an Esquire article in the late 1970s that evolved into a book, "The New Elite." That book is in itself a spiritual kin of a 1960s tome whose name I cannot begin to recall. Lebedoff's New Elite believed itself to have a 20th (and subsequent) Century equivalent of the Divine Right of Kings. The best and the brightest, and all that stuff.
As time progressed, contemporary liberalism separated itself more and more from the rest of us, wrapping itself in a larger and larger self-indulgence.
This has reached a point where its primary issues are those which deal not with the future of all, but the self-indulgent wants of this New Elite.
Our schools, especially those in our urban centers, are failing large majorities of their students? Can't change that... the New Elite atop the educational bureaucracies (both in administration and in teacher union leadership) is more interested in preserving its rather comfortable status than in really trying to make changes that would benefit all.
But we can't touch abortion. Not one bit. Several columnists in my area wrote after President Bush was re-elected that the right to unlimited access to abortion was at risk. What struck me as odd was that it was about the first thing these columnists mentioned. Certainly, a Bush presidency brings its baggage, but ranking abortion rights worthy of first mention? What's wrong with this picture?
Also, it should be noted that sexual harassment has become a major worry in corporate North America. And, if you're accused, you're guilty until proven innocent... and you can never prove yourself innocent... unless you're Bill Clinton.
Now, the debate over same-sex couples' status is an issue as well. The heck with centuries of tradition, says contemporary liberalism; we must allow same-sex couples to marry.
The past is irrelevant to contemporary liberalism. The future? There does not appear to be much concern.
It is quite rare in the continuum of history that a civilization has established itself without strong anchors in its predecessors. Contemporary liberalism has developed a case of selective amnesia about the past. It selects, and urges us to do likewise, to forget about the past.
And, as Santayana so wisely observed, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
Do you really want to return to the days of Stalin and Hitler?