How ironic that the persecutors this time around are the so-called intellectuals. They claim to be liberal while behaving as anything but. The touchstone of liberalism is tolerance of differing ideas. Yet this mob exists to enforce conformity of thought and to delegitimize any dissent from its sanctioned worldview. Intolerance is its calling card.
James Kalb has written a response agreeing that liberalism is intolerant but setting out why this follows from liberal principles.
I'd like to follow on in the same vein. Liberalism is neutral in a limited way. It is neutral only in the sense that individuals are supposed to define their own subjective goods and respect the right of others to do the same. That viewpoint isn't really neutral as it assumes a number of things philosophically, for instance, that objective values can't be known, or agreed upon, or don't exist; and that individual goods can be understood separately from communally held ones.
But leaving that aside, liberalism's limited neutrality runs into another problem. If my main moral responsibility to others is that I tolerate their right to subjectively define their own goods, then that means that what fills the gap in terms of public moral standards are values of non-interference such as tolerance, openness, non-discrimination, inclusiveness and so on. These values then become the new standard of public good that people can be thought of as contravening.
It sounds odd, but liberals can then declare their intolerance of violations of tolerance. Here for instance is the right-liberal Jonah Norberg:
It is time for our liberal societies to stop apologising, to get back our self-confidence and state that tolerance and freedom is our way, and those who are out to destroy that deserve no toleration...We should force everybody to accept every other human being as a free and autonomous individual with the same rights as himself. That is the law of a liberal, open society...Everybody who wants to enjoy that society must conform to it. (The Age, 24/9/05)
Force, conform, liberal law, no toleration - these are the terms employed by Norberg who then states that his highest values are tolerance and freedom.
The contradiction is made worse by the fact that it is so easy to run foul of liberal tolerance on a variety of significant issues. For instance, under Norberg's "law of liberalism" I cannot defend any distinction in what men and women do in society. For instance, I cannot defend the idea that women should not be combat troops, as that would place a limit on how women might define their own good. Similarly, I cannot defend border controls as that restricts immigrants defining their own good; nor can I defend traditional marriage, as that limits all those who cannot accept heterosexual fidelity from defining their own good.
The liberal principle forces the outcome on a great many of the most serious issues to be decided in a society. Instead of defining my own goods, I end up having many of the most important ones defined for me by the procedural principle that liberals have established.
In the traditionalist view, it is better for at least some goods to be decided on by a community, in part formally, through a process of politics, and in part informally, through a process of culture and tradition.
That's because some of the most important goods I am likely to hold are aspects of a communal life; if a community does not uphold them, then they are lost as individual goods. You cannot respect the life of the individual, without taking seriously the goods embedded within the community to which the individual belongs.
Second, the outcome of what goods are upheld within a society ought not to be left to a procedural principle, such as that asserted by liberals. That's a curiously mechanical way to decide what goods will triumph in a society; it is also a way that fails to find a harmonious balance between competing goods, or to weigh the real merits of the goods under consideration.
I'll give a concrete example. Brendan Eich, a man with much success in the technology industry, was forced to resign as CEO of Mozilla because some years ago he made a small donation to a campaign to defend traditional marriage.
That's how things work in a liberal system. There is an issue of whether two men or two women should be able to marry. The issue is decided on a procedural basis: the principle is that we should tolerate people self-defining their own good, therefore it is decided that homosexuals should not be limited in defining their own good and should therefore be allowed to marry. People who oppose this are thought to be contravening the tolerance principle and are therefore treated intolerantly.
That's not how things should be done. It is both too contradictory (intolerance in the name of tolerance) and too mechanical (decided according to a procedural principle). What should determine the outcome are questions to do with the nature of marriage itself as an institution; the purposes its serves; of what upholds it as an institution; and of how it fits within the larger order on which a society is based.