Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Why are Liberals So Intolerant?

Carson Holloway has some sharp insights on "The Sources of Liberal Intolerance" at Public Discourse.
Liberal intolerance is rooted in a secular disregard for the dignity of individuals, coupled with the veneration of Progress and the belief that liberal ideologies can’t win in public debate.

American conservatives frequently complain that American liberals are intolerant—a striking paradox for a political movement whose very name suggests a respect for freedom. In their political rhetoric, liberals frequently resort to demonization, claiming, for example, that those who oppose same-sex marriage are animated by irrational hatreds. In the realm of public policy liberals openly desire to regulate communications media, like talk radio, that promote conservative ideas. Indeed, contemporary liberals routinely defend speech codes in the universities, which an older generation of liberals defended as bastions of untrammeled discourse. The complaint is so familiar, and the examples so numerous, that further elaboration of the phenomenon could serve no useful purpose.

What might serve some useful purpose, however, is an effort to reveal the roots of this intolerance. Tolerance is a delicate plant that does not grow easily in the soil of humanity. To some extent, then, liberal intolerance is simply a reflection of the ordinary weakness of human nature, which in all men yearns to silence those whose opinions differ too widely from their own. . . .

In the first place, liberals are drawn into intolerance by their belief in progress, or rather Progress. The contemporary left is, to a considerable extent, committed to the notion that history, or rather History, moves according to a rational, discernible purpose, specifically in the direction of a gradual but irreversible amelioration of the human condition, understood especially as an ever-increasing equality. At first sight, one might expect that such a belief would actually foster tolerance. After all, why should one bother to silence non-progressive views if Progress is fated to advance no matter what anyone does? But it does not work out that way. Instead, the liberal belief in Progress causes liberals to view any expression of what they regard as retrograde opinion to be a threat to the very foundations of their worldview.

In the second place, contemporary liberalism is prone to intolerance because some of its most cherished political and cultural aspirations are at odds with the deeply-rooted moral convictions of the American society it is trying to reform.

Finally, the left is intolerant because it tends to be secular, and as a result is less able to respect the dignity of the individual human person. The Western tradition finds support for human dignity in the biblical belief that every human being is created in the image and likeness of a transcendent God. . . . Modern American liberals have to a considerable extent shaken off such theological convictions. In their place, many liberals have embraced Darwinism, understood not merely as a scientific explanation of the biological mechanisms of evolution but as a comprehensive account of man’s ultimate origins. Darwinism thus understood, however, purports to “know” that human beings emerged merely through the interplay of chance and necessity, and that they differ from other animals not in kind but only in degree. . . .

Thus we often find liberals seeking to advance the cause of social justice, as they understand it, by doing injustice to individuals.
Read the rest here. A few comments.

First, since contemporary liberalism makes "Tolerance" its first principle of practical reason and its highest virtue, for it to fail even to be tolerant makes it a complete and total failure as a political philosophy even judged by its own internal standards.

Second, we must remember that contemporary liberalism is not classical 19th century liberalism, but is a form of liberalism that has surrendered in large part to socialist thinking. Contemporary liberalism allows Marxists to pose as insiders to Western political systems rather than appearing as an outside enemy seeking to destroy the system. The intolerance of contemporary liberalism arises out of the mixing of revolutionary Marxism with liberal thought to create something antithetical to the Western tradition.


Gordon Hackman said...

I'd have liked to see the point about the inability of liberal ideas to survive reasoned public debate unpacked more. Nevertheless, a good and thought provoking article.

Here are two additional reasons I'll add to the list:

1.) Rebellion - this tracks some with Holloway's second point about liberalism being at odds with mainstream American culture, but it goes further. I'd say a lot (though not all) of liberals are simply in rebellion against God and against the order of the world he created, which is frequently (though not always and not perfectly) embodied in traditional moral codes. Much of today's liberalism is about complete personal moral autonomy and the right to pursue one's desires without limit. People who live out of these values cannot abide anything or anyone that tries to limit their behavior. I think this point is well supported by scripture too.

2.) Trendiness- It seems to me that a lot of liberal values and attachment to liberal values and causes(though again, I'd say not all) arises from trendiness and a desire to be thought enlightened or to be accepted by certain people. I think this is especially true, for example, of the swing towards liberalism among many younger people including younger evangelicals. Liberalism and liberal values are considered cool. People who embrace liberal values for reasons like these cannot abide any criticism or open disagreement with their views because it threatens the sense of status and belonging within the groups whose acceptance they desire and leaves them with no good reason to associate themselves with those groups. It confronts them with the possibility that the truth may be uncool or unpopular and that to embrace it may mean losing the approval of those whose approval they desire. I base this second point on my own struggles with insecurity and a desire to be liked and accepted by others.

Craig Carter said...

I agree with your points and with reference to the last one I'd just like to take this opportunity to say that I like you a lot and that there is not a single popular, trendy, hip, currently fashionable cause in the world that you could sign up for that would make me like you more. :)

Gordon Hackman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gordon Hackman said...

Thanks Dr. Carter for your kind comments.