December 13, 2004

Decline of Liberalism?

Here's an essay from The Chronicle Review by John Lukacs on how and why the word "liberal" has become a pejorative term. Not least among the reasons for what Lukacs calls the "collapse of liberalism" is the near universal acceptance of its principles:

On a nearly worldwide level, liberal principles, advancing through centuries, and particularly in the 19th century, have triumphed. There is less institutionalized injustice around the globe than ever before. The abolition of slavery; the promotion of universal education, universal suffrage, freedom, and equal rights for women; and the provision of health services, guaranteed help for the poor, popular sovereignty, etc., if not perfectly or everywhere, but at least in principle, have been widely adopted around the world...

But Lukacs says it's more than a sense of mission accomplished or a redefinition of the word "liberal" itself that have contributed to the decline of liberalism...

...there was the sense, more or less apparent, of a general disappointment with liberal ideals. There was the inclination, sometimes fatal, of liberals to take the ideas of the Enlightenment to extremes: to propagate a public morality devoid of, if not altogether opposed to, religion; to insist more and more on institutionalizing the promotion of justice, at times even at the expense of truth; to emphasize freedom of speech, often at the expense of thought; to make abortion legal; to approve same-sex marriages and affirmative action.

To an increasing mass of Americans, "liberal" began to mean -- rightly or wrongly -- a toleration, if not a promotion, of what many considered to be immoralities. That the private lives and the moral behavior of many self-professed conservatives hardly differed from those of their liberal opponents mattered not, at least until now.

Posted by dan at December 13, 2004 10:07 PM