The laughable impotence of liberalism
(This entry has been revised and expanded since first being posted.)
A group has been organizing a “March for Free Expression” to take place in London on March 25, apparently to protest the campaign of intimidation against the newspapers that published the Muhammad cartoons. But now one of the organizers of the group, Peter Risdon, calling himself “Voltaire,” has decided that, in order not to offend Muslims who plan to participate in the march, the marchers should not carry the Muhammad cartoons that are, after all, the very reason for the march. A batch of commenters are steamed at Risdon’s reversal.
The fatal flaw of liberalism that this incident brings out is its denial of the national/cultural/civilizational factor. Liberals’ only devotion is to a set of universal liberal principles, not to the particular society to which the liberals themselves belong, and which provides the culturally specific matrix within which those “universal” principles were born and have been developed. Indifferent to the realities of nation/culture/civilization, liberals are incapable of loyalty to their own society, and, it follows, incapable of recognizing a threat to their society coming from an alien nation/culture/civilization. Seeing the cartoon jihad as a matter of a generic, abstract “threat to free speech,” rather than as a specifically Islamic attack on Western liberty, they are unable to oppose the jihad effectively, and end up appeasing and surrendering to it. In the present case, they seek the support of “moderate” Muslims for the free-speech march, but the very presence of these Muslims forces the liberals to suppress displays of the Islamo-critical images that were the rallying cause of the march in the first place. The result, as some of the commenters at the march website suggest, will be to turn the liberal march against suppression of free speech into an Islamic march against Islamophobia.
This is a paradigm of liberal society. A society in the act of becoming liberal defines itself as a set of abstractions, thus emptying itself of actual content and identity. Once this operation has been carried out, any attack on the society by an alien culture can only be conceived of as an attack on the abstractions; and, since all cultures must be seen as participating equally in those abstractions, the attack must be seen as equally threatening to the group that is carrying out the attack, as it is to the society that is being attacked. So, as in the recent Paris march, the attack must be redefined from the inhuman torture/murder of a young Jew by Muslims, to generic “racism”—a “racism” that in practice is understood as the oppression of Muslims by the white French including the Jews. Liberal society doesn’t start off by taking the side of its enemy against itself; it starts off by defining itself in terms of abstract universal principles; it is this redefinition, by turning the society into a cultural void, that leads the society to surrender to its enemies, who have not turned themselves into a void.
Liberalism sees itself as a neutral arbiter between all substantive claims of truth. Such neutrality is not sustainable in the world of reality, which presents us with mutually incompatible substantive allegiances—e.g., the Christian West and Islam—between which we must make a choice. Or, as Bob Dylan put it in one of his Christian albums in the late 1970s, “You either got faith or you got unbelief, and there ain’t no neutral ground.”
The reader in England who had sent me the item about the march replies (and his second sentence is the quote of the week):
As they say here in Britain: “Spot on mate”! Liberal self loathing is the only national identity that is allowed in this country it seems. This affliction also transcends to the so called “conservative” party as you have pointed out several times. (I loved the bit you wrote likening the new Cameron–cons to a bunch of children’s television presenters.) Everyday, I read about someone else in the country that has decided to ban the national flag because it offends other cultures. People say “well, the BNP have hijacked our flag, so we can’t be seen to look like we are in their camp can we?” Or, “Only the football thugs show that kind of blind patriotism. “ And Mr. ‘Voltaire’ wants to make the same cowardly excuses when he says this march has been hijacked by the BNP, when in reality its being done by aggressive “moderate” Muslim groups that are funded by Ken Livingstone and the greater London authority (if you haven’t already seen this than you must check it out, especially the download sections with placards and banners). Rather than standing up for his liberal principles Voltaire retreats and invites moderate Muslims and turns it into a march against Islamophobia.. Tony Blair does the same thing when he calls the Muslim community together to talk about the “root” causes of extremism within the community. Rather than ask tough questions, he turns it into a great big Islamic tolerance festival.
Posted by Lawrence Auster at March 23, 2006 02:38 PM | Send