As a conservative-liberal-socialist, I don’t fit onto any political maps that I know of, and I am accustomed to feeling slightly out of place — more, out of focus — in any given policy debate. But despite the sizable liberal element in my own personal political constitution, in times of serious conflict — today’s Brexit contretemps, for instance — I am always temperamentally alienated from liberalism. For what distinguishes many (most?) liberals from both conservatives and socialists, as today’s social media torpedoes reveal, is genuine incomprehension that any sane and decent person could disagree with them.
Yuval Levin said once that the right and left in this country are both liberal. By this, he meant that they share a common heritage of classical liberalism, which has a conservative and a progressive tendency. They both believe in inalienable rights, representative democracy, and free markets; they just differ in the details. If that sounds ridiculously counterintuitive, it’s because a lot of time and rhetorical energy has been invested in claiming that “conservatives” and “liberals”, conventionally defined, occupy opposite sides of a vast, unbridgeable chasm, but it would be more accurate to see them as two wings of one political tradition, with the differences between them often being of the small, narcissistic kind. “Conservatives” do not seriously want to restructure society around the divine right of kings, a landed aristocracy, and other elements of a feudal society, nor do they yearn for life under a fascist dictator, and “liberals” do not actually want to impose a godless communist tyranny.
Yeah, that disturbance in the force you just felt was as if millions of bloggers cried out in terror upon hearing the legitimacy of their entire identity and life’s work called into question. Ignore it; it’ll pass.
Assuming all this is accurate, Jacobs’ comment clarifies for me the way that much political argument has become nothing more than fashionable posturing, an argument rooted in the idiosyncrasy of taste rather than irreconcilable principles. I, too, lean left on certain issues and right on others, but I, too, can’t stand the entitled, bitter, moralistic flavor of today’s Progressivism™️ — those ads with the “Now containing more social justice!” thing, the attempt to rebrand it for the millennial generation, that was all a mistake, I think. Hopefully they’ll recover soon, though I’m not too optimistic over the new CEO they’ve got coming in, you know? We’ll see, I guess, but for the time being, I’m switching to small, independent craft politics.
Anyway, without a serious opponent like fascism or communism to challenge it from without, liberalism seemingly devolves into status competition within. Everyday life proceeds as reliably and predictably as ever, even as political partisans work themselves into feverish delirium trying to portray the next election as the last chance to stave off certain apocalypse. The more our lifestyles converge, the more significance we have to invest in trivial distinctions of language, manners, hobbies, education and consumption to keep a semblance of deep, existential meaning alive. And all of these tendencies are magnified and amplified in the online world, as people separated by a mere few cubicles can spend the workday unknowingly raging at each other’s pseudonyms in a blog comment section, before wishing each other good evening at quitting time and returning to their personal lives. When people are too comfortable, they get bored, and rather than do something uplifting, they create drama and conflict just to entertain themselves. That’s the conservative in me talking.
Progressivism is currently in power, both politically and culturally. Power makes people stupid, complacent and arrogant. I don’t think that’s peculiar to progressivism. Should they ever find themselves in the political and cultural wilderness, they’ll quickly relearn how to argue uphill against a hostile reception.