Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Progressive Liberalism

Nick Cohen at the Guardian undertakes to contrast traditional liberalism with modern, progressive liberalism. He writes:
On the one hand, traditional liberals say they must oppose political Islam. It is oppressive in its attitude to women, freethinkers and gay people, dogmatic in its intolerance of believers in other religions and none, and contemptuous of democracy and human rights. In Saudi Arabia and Iran, it mandates theocracy. In Syria and Nigeria, it justifies slavery and the mass murders of unbelievers.

Traditional liberals say we should oppose its non-violent and violent sectarianism as vigorously as we oppose Christian, Jewish, Hindu or any other form of sectarianism. Let your enemies play the race card and call you an Islamophobe if they must. Liberal Muslims and ex-Muslims need your support and you need to show that you are not living a lie.

Against traditional liberalism stands multicultural liberalism, which the majority of people who call themselves “progressives” believe. An unimprovable example of how it turns old certainties on their heads came two days before the Paris massacres. The Muslim Council of Britain demanded a blasphemy law because “Muslim communities need to be able to respond to accusations [against] Muslims, or against the Prophet, in a more effective way”.

The council’s guest, Keith Vaz, appeared to agree. It is symptomatic of our time that Vaz is not a Tory traditionalist who thinks it wrong for impious critics to mock the beliefs of the faithful, but a Labour politician. In general today, the left rather than the right, multicultural liberals rather than Tories, are the most likely to defend religious conservatism.

There can be no compromise between these two versions of liberalism and we should have the honesty to admit it.
Cohen has more at the link. Cohen captures several ironies of modern, progressive liberalism in his column. One point that could be added to what he writes is that "progressive liberalism" is actually a misleading label. Modern progressives are much closer to fascists than they are to liberals in the classical sense. They reject, for example, the traditional freedoms that liberals have long cherished - freedom of speech, the spirited clash of ideas, freedom of religion, the equality of all persons under the law, free and open markets, etc.

Modern progressives oppose all of these. Where progressives are influential, as they are on university campuses, speech codes, forbidden words and topics and other stiflings free speech are rife. Ideas which dissent from the orthodox view are shouted down and their proponents subjected to all manner of intimidation and punishments ranging from loss of tenure (instructors), to expulsion from school (students), to calls for arrest (climate change skeptics).

Progressives endorse freedom of religion as long as long as the religion isn't Christianity. Christians are pressured to shed their belief in traditional marriage, for instance, and threatened with fines or loss of tax exemption and, in some European countries, even arrest if pastors speak out in favor of traditional marriage, but progressives would never dream of subjecting Muslims to such sanctions.

Having insisted for decades that minority groups are victims of racism and oppression progressives now find themselves unable to oppose or criticize whatever members of those groups demand, whether it be the right to practice sharia law or even the right to impose sharia on the broader culture by enacting blasphemy laws.

Progressives have constructed an implicit narrative that governs the way they see the world. According to this narrative those who have power are ipso facto oppressors and those who lack power are ipso facto innocent victims. Thus, whenever the oppressor, for example a police officer, employs force against a victim the officer is by the very nature of the case engaging in oppression against the oppressed. The victim is by definition innocent and the oppressor is by definition guilty. Justice demands that the innocent be vindicated and the guilty oppressor be punished.

This progressive narrative infuses much of the racial tension in this country and sets the tone for the relations of Muslims to the wider culture in Britain. One way the innocent are to be vindicated, in the progressive view, is by yielding to their demands, which emanate, after all, from the moral high ground, and turning a blind eye to their social, legal, and intellectual transgressions and inadequacies.

Of course, when this point is reached genuine justice is no longer possible. And that, indeed, is the legacy of progressive liberalism.