Monsieur Holt hoists himself by his own petard. Despite how many Wall Street Journal editorials and NRO Corner posts he reads, he continues to tackle straw men left and right, conjuring historical consensuses that never existed. As a history major, he should know better.
Mytheos says the liberal psyche is “an odd place which resembles in many ways a 24-hour supermarket clogged with asbestos. That is, it’s always open, but anything that enters it inevitably decomposes in an untimely fashion.” In addition to its incoherence, this claim falls back on the lazy thinking leading otherwise decent people on the Right to treat liberalism as thievery, rather than a political ideology.
The Left rarely slanders conservatism and republicanism, the twin bases of the Republican Party. Liberal thinkers may insult Republican policies, but they do not go after the values underlying them. Historically, the Left has been kind enough not to tar the good name of republicanism, acknowledging that although the most potent example of American republicanism in the past one hundred years was the Jim Crow South (which, notably, was perpetuated by Democrats), republicanism was certainly an improvement over the 18th Century‘s alternatives.
In contrast, those on the Right are not satisfied with debating Democratic policies. Instead they feel the need to treat the impulses underlying them as pathological. However, if those on the right wish to take that cheap shot by slandering liberalism, they should it’s the basis of our society. We are first and foremost a liberal nation, i.e. a society based upon law. Our Constitution is fundamentally liberal in that it is not rights foundationalist– we can change it in any way we want. This truth is not always convenient; I would be dismayed if a defense of marriage amendment were passed. However, few informed people beyond those on the far left and right would say such an amendment was unconstitutional. Our country, unlike most Western European nations, is based on the purest pluralism. If our founders couldn’t agree on the meaning of our Constitution and the principles underlying our nation (and if you’ve read the Federalist Papers you’d be forced to acknowledge they couldn’t), it would take a supremely arrogant person to claim they hold such knowledge.
Right-wingers may claim today’s liberalism has little to do with classical liberalism, but they’re wrong. American liberals today believe we are still a nation of laws, and that these laws should aim to help create a more just society that protects us from those who aspire to overreach. Today’s American liberalism is about creating a just society where we are protected from those who aspire to take away our ability to pursue life, liberty and happiness. In fact, it is “republican” in the best ways, as it asks us all (particularly those of us who have been helped by past and still existing inequalities) to sacrifice for the good of the whole. We sacrifice our income for safer streets and better schools. We sacrifice some of our safety to ensure that those at Guantanamo Bay are given basic rights and that the government is not able to spy on us carte blanche.
Finally, liberals’ wish to create a more just society is not only a reasonable aim for our nation, it is also quintessentially American. Indeed, it predates the Constitution. Winthrop’s “A Modell of Christian Charity,” a sermon establishing the Puritan values this nation built itself upon, calls his fellow men to practice mercy and justice towards their fellow man above all else. This impulse was shared by Jefferson, Lincoln, Hoover, and FDR. Dare I quote Kennedy and make Mytheos cringe?
I’m glad Americans are on the whole able to see through the vile slander thrown at liberalism, a set of attitudes that, however imperfect, are still relevant and good. I’m also happy Americans treat the equally admirable goals of republicanism and conservatism – however imperfect– with the same reverence. As a moderate who believes our elected officials should try to balance conflicting ideologies, I’m pleased by this reality.