Why liberals never learn

Pro-Israel “hard-liners”—i.e., people who do not willfully close their eyes to the reality of Israel’s mortal enemies—have been saying all along that Israel’s withdrawal process from Gaza and other territories would only weaken Israel and lead to renewed and more deadly attacks against it. Yet the withdrawal enjoyed overwhelming support among the Israeli electorate. For this reason I came to the conclusion last year that it was pointless to argue against the withdrawal or even to worry about it, since, given the Israelis’ peacenik mindset, only the inevitable disaster resulting from the withdrawal could wake them up again. The only thing to do was to forget about Israel for a while and wait for the disaster. Now the disaster has happened, Israel is using major force against its enemies, the entire Israeli people with the exception of the far left are united behind Prime Minister Olmert, and the Sharon-Olmert withdrawal policy is thankfully dead for the time being.

But why couldn’t the Israelis see all this beforehand? Why was it that only deadly border-crossings into Israel by Hamas and Hezbollah and rockets striking Haifa from Lebanon could make the Israelis realize the obvious folly of transferring Gaza to Hamas and southern Lebanon to Hezbollah? It is because liberals (and virtually all modern Western people are liberals) cannot reach a non-liberal conclusion on the basis of reason. Liberals are incapable of a simple, commonsense thought process such as: “The Arabs want to destroy us, and they will never give up their desire to destroy us; therefore the more we empower them and weaken ourselves, the more they will endanger us.” Such a logic would require recognizing that the Arabs have for all intents and purposes a fixed nature, that they are really and essentially Israel’s enemies, that they do not respond to accommodation with gratitude, and that only force and the fear of force can keep them from harming Israel. To accept such realities and the politics proceeding from them would mean the end of the liberal vision of mankind. It would mean becoming a mean person, a “hater,” someone who feels that non-Western people, particularly Muslims, are not like us, and that we must always be on guard against them, rather than being tolerant and accepting of them and expecting decent and reciprocal relations with them.

For these reasons, liberals cannot adopt a non-liberal position on the basis of reason. They can only adopt a non-liberal position on the basis of being forced into a situation where they literally have no choice but to act in a non-liberal way. Then, even though they are acting in a non-liberal way, they are not eschewing liberal principle, they are not rejecting liberalism as such, they are only responding to urgent necessity. The liberal dream remains alive, and liberals remain free to seek the next available opportunity to practice their liberalism—an opportunity that will present itself the instant the current disaster, created by liberal principle, has been ended by non-liberal action.

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An Indian living in the West writes:

“Why was it that only deadly border-crossings into Israel by Hamas and Hezbollah and rockets striking Haifa from Lebanon could make the Israelis realize the obvious folly of transferring Gaza to Hamas and southern Lebanon to Hezbollah? It is because liberals (and virtually all modern Western people are liberals) cannot reach a non-liberal conclusion on the basis of reason. Liberals are incapable of a simple, commonsense thought process such as: “The Arabs want to destroy us, and they will never give up their desire to destroy us; therefore the more we empower them and weaken ourselves, the more they will endanger us.”

I think it is not just liberalism. Jews have a tendency to fall for what I may call the “rhetoric of peace.” So isn’t just the fact that Israelis are liberals in the fundamental sense, they also have hopes of peace that go beyond their fundamental liberalism. Frankly, I cannot blame them. After all, who wants to live in a state of perpetual war? The problem however is that the Arabs will never give up as you say and they wish to destroy Israel utterly.

Israelis need to grasp this fact and then make all political decisions on that basis. They may hate war (as all peace-loving people do) but the war won’t leave them alone. So they might as well act prudently and not on the basis of utopian feelings about peace.

It’s like India and Pakistan. In India, the most fashionable word (on the India-Pakistan issue) for any politician to utter is “dialogue.” This goes to such an extreme that even after the most brutal acts of terror, they say this only emphasizes the need for “dialogue.” This stems from liberalism (to the extent it has seeped into the Indian mindset), but also from utopian Hindu ideas about how ultimately everyone really wants peace and “harmony.” In reality of course this is far from true. The majority of people in Pakistan want jihad—to the extent that this can be carried out. The Islamified herd will only maintain peace when it suits the jihad—but it is not a peace based on the principle of peace as we understand it but merely a lull which is sometimes beneficial in carrying out the jihad more effectively. Therefore, the whole obsession with “peace” and “dialogue” is completely misplaced. But that doesn’t stop them from trying time and time again—even after having been bombed countless times. They will never learn.

LA replies:

There are different facets and ways of describing liberalism that complement each other. We could say liberalism is the belief that all peoples are and can be members of the same global community, founded in adherence to reasonable dialog and civilized rules of conduct. The flaw in this belief is the same as with the liberal belief that all peoples have the same abilities: it ain’t true. But this must be concealed. The fact that some people are not following the rules and have not the slightest desire to participate in reasonable dialog cannot be admitted, because that would break down the vision of a single world community. Everyone must continue to be considered an equally legitimate participant in reasonable dialog, even he is a terrorist. Thus you have Juan Williams (I believe) this morning on Fox News urging that the U.S. treat Hezbollah as a political player. In the liberal world order, everyone belongs and there are no enemies, except for him who believes that not everyone belongs.

Ben writes:

One thing I have noticed through the entire coverage of this war so far is the constant mention of “innocent civilians.” This is another way that liberalism can continue even during these modern wars. Liberals can only feel justified attacking as long as no “innocent civilians” are killed in the process. Innocent civilians now are defined in the liberal West as everybody on earth besides “terrorists.” Terrorists are the only ones we can kill at will with no backlash.

There is always some cryptic enemy that is the problem but it’s never the people themselves. So even though Hamas was voted in by the “innocent” civilians and Hezbollah supported by the “innocent” Lebanese, as long as one man or woman inside those countries is opposing these radical groups, then we must not truly act without “restraint.” Restraint is a word which means the liberal West will only tolerate Israel as long as they fight this war nicely or in limited ways such as surgical strikes and giving the “innocent civilians” 72 hours to get out while also letting Hamas and Hezbollah plan accordingly as well.

The day I see no mention of innocent civilians is the day I know the West is truly going to defend itself. Terror has become the enemy, not Islam. Even though I am encouraged by Israel’s latest action, some of the interviews I have seen from its leaders do not impress me. There’s no mention of Islam at all, it’s always the same garbage…the same old line about Terror and how we need to get the Terrorist. Hezbollah is never mentioned as an Islamic group but a Terror group.

I do see a point coming when Israel will drop liberalism completely but I think it’s going to take more pain. The reason this war seems so tough right now is because we have gone through such liberal insanity over the past couple years, this seems like a new awakening. However, we are still far from where we need to be and so is Israel.

Rob writes:

I think it imprecise to say that practically all modern Western peoples are liberals. Many in the broad populace are not—witness various Buchananite movements in Western countries. What is true is that practically all modern Western elites are liberal. Elites being, say, the top 2 percent of society. And a unanimous elite will trump a majority of the broader society.

LA replies:

When I say that virtually all modern Westerners are liberals I mean that basically everyone, including most conservatives, sees things primarily in terms of individual rights and equality and the satisfaction of desire. This is so built into people’s thought processes that they have no critical awareness of it. It’s part of the way they respond to all kinds of issues. Also, even if people are genuinely non-liberal on some particular issue on which they have articulate convictions, they will tend to be liberal on other issues, where they are less articulate and have thought through things less deeply. If a person has a “conservative” position on this issue or that, but still accepts underlying liberal premises, he is still a liberal. Liberalism is the default mode of the modern world. It takes intellectual effort to attain non-liberal understandings.

You say it’s just the elites. But where are the genuinely non-liberal institutions that stand against the elite institutions? There is basically no political and public intellectual life in our society that is not liberal, by which I mean intellectual life that challenges fundamental liberal premises. So if there are all these genuine conservatives around, where are they expressing themselves? To say that the liberal elites are suppressing the conservatives may be true, but it cannot account for the total absence of genuine challenges to liberal assumptions in this freest country on earth.

However, I recognize that the statement is provocative and I will need to defend and explain it further, which I will do as soon as the temperature in New York City drops below 90 degrees and I can think again.

Alan R. argues that liberalism is our state religion. He writes:

In your blog entry “Why Liberals Never Learn,” you said .”..virtually all modern Westerners are liberals …” and .”..I will need to defend and explain it further…” I’m dreadfully short of time these days, but I have to comment on this one.

It was probably this, more than any other specific issue, that made me fall in love with VFR. So here are some thoughts, from my perhaps someday forthcoming book Liberalism for Dummies.

The problem is, how do we understand and characterize the utter dominance of liberalism, given that conservative individuals, organizations and movements appear to be relatively strong and successful? I summarize the situation with a slogan: “Liberalism is the unofficial state religion of America.” Speaking as a professor, I think we need to do three things: one, define the terms, two, give evidence why the statement is true, and three, show its implications.

The implications could fill many libraries, so I’ll stick to points one and two.

Liberalism is the unofficial state religion both because individuals are not required formally to swear allegiance to liberalism, and because the Constitution forbids an official state religion. But it is the state religion, because every nation must have one: there must be an official worldview that is the basis for the officials (government and otherwise) making important decisions. A nation without a state religion is like a body without life.

In America (and the rest of the West), this state religion is liberalism. One confirmation of this proposition is that even government and non-government officials who have different convictions believe they have to make decisions in accordance with liberalism. Thus, the president claims to be a Bible-believing Christian, but his decisions often contradict a biblical worldview, and no clearly biblical reasons are ever given for his decisions.

The other confirmation is that America’s highest authorities, the people and institutions that have the highest generally recognized authority to tell people what reality is, teach liberalism. These highest authorities are the educators (from pre-school to graduate school) and the news readers of the mainstream media. John Q. Public forms his view of the world mainly from what these authorities teach, and from popular entertainment, which translates what the teachers and news readers say into more concretely tangible and emotionally satisfying form.

The only significant opposition to the ideas of liberalism comes from within Christendom, from those Christian churches and other organizations that consciously teach a counter-liberal worldview. But these form only a small minority of Christians. And even many theologically conservative Christians are basically liberal on non-spiritual issues: since their pastors and teachers don’t discuss these issues with any depth and sophistication, they believe what the secular authorities say about them.

Many people regard themselves as and act as conservatives. But it doesn’t really matter what John Q. Public believes in his heart. If those with the authority to say what is true, and those with the authority to say what must be done, say and do liberalism, then liberalism is the state religion, regardless of the existence of opposition.

If I have accurately characterized America’s situation, then we must acknowledge liberalism as the state religion. Americans conservatives are in somewhat the same position as “moderate Muslims”: the authorities say otherwise, so they have little power. (But let’s not carry the analogy too far. American conservatives do have more power against the state religion than “moderate Muslims” have against Islam.)

LA replies:

Very interesting. These are the kinds of insights that mainstream conservatives never have. They think that America is a conservative country that has somehow been hijacked by liberal elites, so that all we have to do is somehow get rid of those elites, and America would be conservative again. They fail to realize that we are living under what you call the state religion of liberalism, and, second, they fail to realize the extent to which they themselves are its obedient and unquestioning followers.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at July 16, 2006 02:40 PM | Send

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