Why do Liberals Inspire so Much Anger &
Despite the Undoubted Virtues of Liberalism?
Liberalism (from the Latin liberalis) is a broad political ideology or worldview founded on the ideas of liberty and equality. Liberals espouse a wide array of views depending on their understanding of these principles, but generally liberals support ideas such as capitalism (either regulated or not), constitutionalism, liberal democracy, free and fair elections, human rights and the free exercise of religion.
(from the Wikipedia article)
Of all the varieties of virtues, liberalism is the most beloved.
LIBERAL: (adj) open to new behavior or opinions and willing to discard traditional values; favourable to or respectful of individual rights and freedoms; (in a political context) favouring maximum individual liberty in political and social reform.
The word “liberalism” has been the greatest asset to the [British] Liberal Party, for the word implies that a love of liberty is the distinguishing characteristic of Liberals. If this were so we should all be Liberals, for we all love our own liberty. Milton was a Liberal of this school. He did not write against marriage until his own marriage was a failure, or protest against the licensing of books until his own tracts had been condemned as immoral. And he did not refuse the post of censor when it was offered him, for that post carried a handsome salary. The French Liberals, who sowed the seeds of the French Revolution, wished to be liberated from the authority of the Church and the King and hoped to transfer the privileges of the nobility to themselves, but they had no intention of liberating the proletariat from the authority of the intellectuals and the bourgeoisie. Bright and Cobden wished to liberate their party from the authority of the House of Lords, but they opposed the liberation of small children from the tyranny of the factories. Whig aristocrats sympathised with every revolution abroad and successfully prevented revolution at home. . . [However] Liberalism would never have captured the allegiance of good men had it been nothing more than selfishness disguised by a thin veneer of hypocrisy. English Liberals have always included among their leaders men who believed not only in liberating themselves but also in liberating those with whose religious or political views they disagreed.
Arnold Lunn (from Come What May, 1941)
[The following passage is an excerpt from Malcolm Muggeridge’s July 20, 1950 entry to his Diary.]
Had discussion with Bill Deedes about Liberalism, which was, I said, an attractive doctrine, but which I increasingly abhorred because false. Its great fallacy, I pointed out, was the perfectibility of Man—i.e. the assumption that left to himself he would be humane, orderly, and industrious. My experience has been the exact opposite—namely, that, left to himself, Man was brutish, lustful, idle and murderous, and that the only hope of keeping his vile nature within any sort of bound was to instil in him fear of God or his fellow men. Of these two alternatives, I preferred fear of God—an authoritarian Christian society to an authoritarian materialist society, fear of Hell as a deterrent to fear of human brutality.
Progress is not an accident but a necessity. What we call evil and immorality must disappear. It is certain that man must become perfect.
Why do some liberals/progressives have . . . sympathy for Islam (perhaps the least liberal of all the World religions), when many of them have not much religion and/or not much sympathy towards it generally? . . . After all, they’ve ridiculed Christian fundamentalists for a long time without feeling any pangs of guilt at the “injury” this may do to that “culture.”
[An analogous question might shed some light on the above query: “Why did so many liberals sympathize with the extreme left, especially at the time of the Spanish Civil War?” One such liberal was Dr. Gregorio Marañón, perhaps the foremost Spanish intellectual of the twentieth century. Famous for his discoveries in connection with the endocrine glands, he was a deputy in the Cortes (Spanish parliament), one of the founders of the second Republic (1931–1939), and a political radical who was imprisoned under the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera (1923–1930). Although a Google search for “Gregorio Marañón” yields over 1.5 million hits, there is only a short Wikipedia article on him. His mea culpa below, made in 1937, is addressed by the article in the following sentence: ‘He was a Republican, fought the Miguel Primo de Rivera dictatorship though he later showed his disagreement with Spanish Communism.’]
My true story? It is an act of contrition!
I have been misled, I have been mistaken. Save for a few new-fangled Catholics who persist in their prejudice in favour of the Communists, all the intellectuals of Spain think as I do, speak as I do, and, like me, have had to flee from Republican Spain to save their lives.
From the standpoint of a scientist one should recognize one’s mistakes.
Peccavi! (I have sinned!) The Revolution was brought about by us. We desired it and prepared it; and it sprang from our strongest reactions against the outrages which freedom of thought suffered. The execution of Ferrer—[Francisco Ferrer, a radical educator who conducted his school in Barcelona in accordance with Tolstoyan principles and those of the celebrated A. S. Neill of Summerhill, was executed in 1909 following disorders with which he had no connection]—produced a feeling of revulsion in me. The Monarchy dealt itself a death blow by killing Ferrer. From the blood of another martyr, the journalist Sirval,—[Luis Sirval was arrested and murdered in prison by Nationalist officers after he published protests against Nationalist reprisals against the defeated miners of Asturias in 1934]—who was killed in prison during the Asturian affair, the Popular Front was two years later to draw its strength in propaganda.
True, our intellectual standing had already stamped us as the representatives of progress over against the old historic Spain, but Ferrer and Sirval furnished the decisive sentimental argument that inflamed us.
But what has happened since then? You know what has happened; but I have seen it. Thirty thousand Ferrers, guilty of freedom of thought, have been shot without a trial. Five thousand Sirvals have been killed in prison with hand-grenades. Thousands of men and women are still being murdered every day on the mere suspicion of independence of opinion.
The present situation allows of no half-way house. . . Franco is certain to win, and his victory will give me the greatest satisfaction. In any case, there can be no comparison between the two regimes. Primo de Rivera’s dictatorship, from which I suffered personally and bodily, was, compared with the Red tyranny, an amiable dictatorship. The intellectuals who were fortunate enough to be residing in the territory under Nationalist control have neither had their lives threatened nor been obliged to go into exile.
You can see for yourself. In all the hotels in Paris and in the large towns of France you will find political refugees from Spain. All of them are people who have escaped from Red Spain. Not one has found it necessary to leave Nationalist Spain.
Only one thing matters: that Spain, Europe, and mankind should be freed from a system of bloodshed, an institution of murder, which we accuse ourselves of having incurred while labouring under a tragic misapprehension.
My ideal is to protest against any kind of persecution, and I would say, broadly speaking, that there are more people on the conservative side who have a consistent policy about this than on the liberal side.
Arnold Lunn (In a 1966 interview with William F. Buckley)
The essence of the Liberal outlook lies not in what opinions are held, but how they are held: instead of being held dogmatically, they are held tentatively, and with a consciousness that new evidence may at any moment lead to their abandonment. This is the way opinions are held in science, as opposed to the way they are held in theology. Science is empirical, tentative, and un-dogmatic; all immutable dogma is unscientific. The scientific outlook, accordingly, is the intellectual counterpart of what is, in the practical sphere, the outlook of Liberalism.
A liberal is someone who doubts his premises even while he is acting upon them.
Richard Weaver (attributed)
[The following passage was taken from Arnold Lunn’s book, Come What May, 1941. His father, Henry Lunn, both a devout Methodist and a staunch liberal, was a close friend of Asquith and a member of the Liberal shadow cabinet. Shortly after the First World War the Liberal Party went into permanent decline and was replaced by Labour.]
A few days after the Treaty of Versailles had been ratified by the British Parliament, Sir Donald Maclean, leader of the Liberal Party in the House of Commons, was staying with my father at Hastings. I asked him why he had allowed the party to vote for the Treaty. He replied that it would have been difficult and unfriendly to spoil the general effect of harmony and of rejoicing that the war had officially come to an end. Yes, it would have been difficult, but had the Liberals voted against the Treaty of Versailles, Liberalism might be in power today.
As much as I ever did, more than I ever did, I believe in Liberalism. But there was a rosy time of innocence when I believed in Liberals.
G. K. Chesterton
More Thoughts about Liberals & Liberalism
A liberal may be defined approximately as a man who, if he could, by waving his hand in a dark room, stop the mouths of all the deceivers of mankind for ever, would not wave his hand.
G. K. Chesterton
Samuel Butler describes two methods of getting a hen to cross a road. The first is to throw small pieces of bread, not at the hen but just in front of her, and thus to lure her gradually across the road. The second method is to throw a loaf of bread at the hen. “And this,” says Butler, “is the method of our advanced Liberals. Some of whom mistake stones for bread.”
Liberals claim to want to give a hearing to other views, but then are shocked and offended to discover that there are other views.
William F. Buckley
The trouble with you liberals is you get uneasy when people don’t agree with you.
H. L. Mencken
Secular Liberalism was born on the shores of Lake Geneva in the salons of Madame Necker and Madame de Staël. Its basic doctrine was defined in the proposition: “It is contrary to the natural, innate and inalienable right and liberty and dignity of man to subject himself to an authority the root, rule and measure and sanction of which is not in himself.”
Liberal humanists were rationalists in their criticism of dogmatic religion, but their own ideology is based on a non-rational dogmatism, an intuitive experience which is half mystical and half emotional.
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