Thursday, May 01, 2014

Why does liberalism attract support?

For many decades the Western intellectual classes have been firm supporters of liberalism. But why?

I want to put forward two reasons. The first is that liberals have been able to dominate the question of what makes a good person, albeit in a roundabout kind of way. After all, liberalism begins by claiming that we should self-define our own concept of the good. You would think that would then leave open the question of what makes a person good.

But the question is not left open. Instead, liberals do set up moral criteria of goodness, according to the following logic:

a) There either is no objective moral good or else we cannot know what it is

b) Therefore we can only subjectively define our own good

c) Therefore we should not interfere with other people defining their own good

d) Therefore qualities of non-interference are what are moral: for instance, tolerance, diversity, openness, non-discrimination

e) Therefore it is right to suppress those who contravene a morality of non-interference, even if this involves high levels of coercive interference

f) We can show we are a good person by following the morality of non-interference, for instance, by showing how far we will support diversity and non-discrimination

This has been thoroughly accepted as the criteria of what shows that we are a good, compassionate person; it doesn't really require a test of character, or any personal sacrifices, only a willingness to adopt a certain world view. If you sign up to liberal political causes, you therefore get to believe that you pass the test of good personhood. This is, I believe, a feel-good factor that attracts the intellectual classes to liberalism.

The second reason for liberalism attracting intellectual support is that liberalism has acted as a kind of tribal marker for those who aspire to intellectual status. Young intellectual types often have a sense of themselves as different from the hoi polloi. They don't like the ordinary, outer suburban lifestyle and mentality - they feel themselves to be set apart from it.

There has been a trend for such aspiring young intellectual types to gather together into lifestyle communities of their own. Such communities often employ boundary markers to set themselves apart from others. The markers might include where you live; for instance, in Australia the intellectual classes have preferred inner urban locations, so that even the Greens will live far away from any forests in suburbs like Fitzroy or St Kilda. Similarly, it can be a marker of intellectual hipness to follow an academic fashion - it doesn't really matter how true or profound the academic theory is as the point of reciting it is to prove your intellectual credentials. It's much the same with the arts; the liberal intelligentsia don't really care much for highbrow art and are happy to cede this ground to conservatives (think of the house conservative in MASH, Charles Winchester III, with his classical music); what matters more is that the art is cutting edge (a sign of being trendy or with the in crowd).

To be fair, the liberal intelligentsia have shown some skill at establishing a pleasant lifestyle culture for themselves. They often pick out the inner suburbs with the most character in which to pursue a pleasant, gentrified, café latte lifestyle.

What does all this mean? It helps to explain why it can be so difficult to shift the intelligentsia from liberalism, even as the long-term negative effects of liberalism become more obvious and immediate. It means as well that to break intellectuals from liberalism we need to:

a) revisit the criteria of what it means to be a good person


b) find a way to allow intellectuals to distinguish themselves and to have a niche in society they feel comfortable in, without defining themselves in opposition to the ordinary members of their own ethny.


  1. I agree that all, or at least most people want to be thought of, by others, as supporters of justice. I think this combines with the facts about the kinds of people who study the humanities at university, or desire jobs in the media. These are a certain kind of person; growing up they were softer, weaker, more sensitive; contemplative rather than active types. They generally still are. They see the world differently than other people. Christianity was not a force in their lives, or was only ever a juvenile conception, to be grown out of and mocked later in life. (See these same atheists fume about the 'crimes' of God, imagining Him to be the same as a man, allowing suffering to happen and so on). I think these kinds of people are attracted to the morality of Marxism, the left. They naturally go for jobs in the media (especially the ABC) and in academia. What did such types do for a living a millennium ago, with no media and no academia to turn to?

    -- Justin de Vere

  2. I agree with this, but, at this point, the attraction of "liberalism" (if one can use that word for what you describe) has spread far beyond people who are intellectuals or have intellectual pretensions. Over the last 30 years or so, this way of viewing the world has taken over corporate America (not just the entertainment and high tech sectors), in all regions of the country, and even including the nominal Republican establishment. Acquiescence to "liberal" values is, almost everywhere in America, a prerequisite to genteel status and social acceptance in wealthy and upper middle class society. If you disagree, you had better keep your mouth shut, as Mr. Eich recently learned.