on May 7, 2000
Kramer and Kimball show how classical liberalism (free-markets, free-people, small government) has been betrayed and abandoned in favor of a "modernized" version that inverts the priorities of the classicists -- namely the promotion of controlled-markets, regulated-people, and an activist government. Freedom (personal or economic) is no longer the most important guiding principle. Rather egalitarianism and vague notions of equality and social justice are promoted instead. The consequence has been the creation of a top-heavy administrative (bureaucratic, regulated) State that continually seeks to increase its sphere of influence -- a centralized federal power that consume 20% of the nation's production. And while modern liberalism still pays lip service to personal freedom, its ambition for egalitarianism necessarily impose on both economic and personal freedom -- hence the books subtitle, "How the Disciples of Freedom and Equality Helped Foster The Illiberal Politics of Coercion and Control." This book is an essential read for those wishing to understand how American values were transformed from those of the Founding Fathers to those of Marx.
on July 31, 2000
This olio of essays explores a variety of factions where true liberalism has been hijacked by groups with an agenda that is anything but liberal. In issues as diverse as tobacco to gun control to federal funding of the arts, the modern so-called liberals are virtually identical in their beliefs to Adolph Hitler-someone who never wore the title of liberal.
The nine authors are a mixed lot, but all have obviously done their homework, and even the less-than-stellar efforts will stimulate any open mind. Some of the pieces prove very readable, while getting through others is a tad of a struggle. Among the strongest are Robert Conquest's "Liberals and Totalitarianism" which examines the growing unnatural alliance between these strangest of political bedfellows. His reasoned suasion piqued my interest to read his current "Reflections of a Ravaged Century." Australian thinker Keith Windscuttle (an unusual last name must have been a prerequisite for contributing to this tome) covers "Liberalism and Imperialism" in another standout exploration.
Hilton Kramer and Roger Kimball who co-edited the volume contributed a joint exordium that clearly sets the parameters of this disquisition. Kimball also contributes an essay on the philosophy of freedom that contains this courageous common sense gem, "notwithstanding the slogans of our cultural commissars, `diversity' itself is neither good nor bad." Despite the somewhat sluggish pace of a few entries, this concoction warrants a perusal especially by those pure liberals who resent the piracy of their nomenclature.
on February 27, 2000
Although the current mavens of the "liberal" school will shriek apostasy, The "Betrayal of Liberalism" nails it precisely and unsparingly. The question is will anyone take to it to heart? Preaching to the choir has been the failure of many excellent treatises on the bankruptcy of modern liberalism. Offending the liberal orthodoxy may make new friends among the conservative movement but it does little for one in the world of culture, academia, and least of in the arts. For all of that, there are still authors who struggle on speaking truth to power and exploding the base nastiness of modern liberalism. The price over time is that one will be smeared relentlessly until even if one's work is never widely read, the nasty things averred of the author are. For good measure, for a fictional look at a debasement of freedom imposed and for the most part cheerfully accepted, what liberalism hopes to attain in other words, read "Transfer-the end of the beginning" by Jerry Furland.
on February 25, 2002
This collection of papers explores various aspects of the decline of the liberal movement, ostensibly dedicated to peace and freedom, sweetness and light, into the coercive utopian form that dominates in the western world at the present time. As a result of this process the term liberalism has ceased to mean anything unless it is qualified in some way.
All of the contributors have something valuable to offer, especially Keith Windshuttle and Robert Conquest. Windschuttle has studied the waxing and waning fortunes of British liberalism, especially in relation to imperialism and the Empire. Adam Smith and David Hume saw no future for overseas dominions other than as friendly trading partners and similar views were held by the 19th century Manchester radicals such as Cobden and Bright. However one evil led to another because the threat of Napoleon prompted Britain to establish a worldwide system of naval bases to protect their sea trade and later these became the entry points for colonization of the pink coloured empire that extended around the globe. The philosophical counterpart of this movement was the philosophy of T H Green and the later Mill. The new nationalism and jingoism of the late 19th century resulted in some of the most squalid episodes in British history, of which the worst was probably the Boer War.
Robert Conquest's essay examines the record and credibility of the fellow-travelers with communism. During the Cold War Arthur Koestler speculated that the future of civilization might depend on the outcome of the struggle between communists and ex-communists because only ex-communists could comprehend how the cause could capture the loyalties of some of the best of men and also the worst of men. The best had to undergo crises of conscience when the reality could not be avoided. Little Louie, the fictional communist dockworker in Darkness at Noon committed suicide but more sophisticated western fellow travelers generally lack his integrity.
The collection has strengths and weaknesses. First the positives.For a long time it has been apparent that true liberalism could win any number of battles on economic policy but still lose the war through being outflanked on the cultural front. It often seems that true liberals of the libertarian kind have not been very active on this front or even aware of the issues at stake. Conservatives tend to be more alert to the dangers in this area and more active in responding to them, as the contributors to this collection have done.
Some market liberals may need to be reminded that we do not live by bread and technology alone. Our lives gain meaning and purpose from the myths and traditions which constitute our non-material heritage. At a lower but no less important level our daily transactions are dignified and lubricated by civility and good manners. Both the higher and lower orders of this fragile structure of civilisation are perpetuated by
cultural practices and by institutions such as the family and the universities. Many of these freedom-enhancing and life-enriching traditions, like the private domain itself, are under threat from various doctrines of the debased kind of liberalism that is targeted in this collection of essays. Many schools of thought which run counter to true liberalism are part of intellectual heritage. For this reason, if we lose the capacity to subject our tradition heritage to imaginative criticism, we run the risk that the good tendencies will be driven out by the bad. Some would say that this process is well advanced.
On the negative side, those contributors to this book who take up philosophical issues have hardly drawn upon the two most powerful liberal philosophers of our time, namely Hayek and Popper. There are some fleeting references to Hayek but none at all to Popper. This is rather like going into a big ball game with your two strongest players on the bench. Some of the contributors (Scruton, Kimball and Windschuttle) would probably not even want Popper on the squad,
judging from their comments on his work in other places.
The economic agenda of liberalism was not under the spotlight in this collection, still it was disconcerting to find that John Silber comes across as an unreconstructed New Dealer. Hadley Arkes, writing on "Liberalism and the Law" deplored the equivocation of Justice Harlan faced with a youth in his courthouse wearing a coat emblazoned with "Fxxxx the Draft". No doubt this was an obscene act but the conscription of young man for Vietnam was the great obscenity of the time, not only in its own right but for the way that it resulted in the loss of the war (through loss of support at home) after it had been effectively won on the ground in Vietnam. In the same way that conscription was the great moral mistake of the sixties, the War on Drugs threatens to shred the fabric of civil liberties and due process in our time. John O'Sullivan referred to the fall in crime "plainly the result of greater use of imprisonment" but the fall in crime is much more likely to be result of demographic factors (and possibly abortion law reform two decades ago) while the rise of imprisonment is a result of the War on Drugs. Another factor that undermines respect for even-handed justice and promotes racial tension is the racism of aggressive affirmative action programs such as college set asides and quotas for hiring.
Hayek pointed out that there are tensions between conservatives and Old Whigs, even while we form common cause against radicals and modern liberals (someone wrote "I vote libertarian if I can, otherwise I hold my nose and vote Republican"). These tensions
need to be explored so that economic liberals become more attuned to the culture war and conservatives become more sensitive to the erosion of freedoms by the State when it attempts to act as a custodian of morals.