Tuesday, February 28, 2012

True liberalism

I am sure I detest the man O as much as the liberal press and academicians and show biz detested the man B. But, if it is so, what sense there would be for me to speak? Just to express my irrational dislikes as they express theirs? They saw in the man B a sort of tyrannical figure, and because of this they promoted the man O with all the means possible, making themselves believe in the humbug of his messiah like act as liberator. Of course, this kind of liberation was perceived by the other side as tyranny.

The LD has done a good job in the previous posts in sketching the reasons why this is really the case. The questions unsolved of European history, to which America wanted to represent the solution, regurgitate again in America: I mean the questions concerning the relation of politics and religion, in which the man O, and the liberal press and academicians and show biz that created him as a public persona, want to realize a total return to Europe. As if there had never been an American experiment worthy of notice.

In the (quite vain) hope to establish a dialogue with the liberal friends, I could say that America has been an experiment in “liberalism”. But I would need immediately to make them notice that liberalism isn’t an univocal word.

I take, to explain what I mean, this line from an article by an Italian university professor, who ranged from his teaching of history of math to more general questions of education and politics:

“The United States are by now torn by the schizophrenia between liberal tradition and authoritarian social control.”

How did that schizophrenia between “liberal” and “authoritarian” came to be? asks himself the author of this line. Because, it is the answer he gives himself, of another factor, besides liberalism, determining American culture: the idea that everything can be dealt with scientifically, measuring it by quantifiable factors.

This might even be true, but, leaving aside the fact that it is not peculiar to American culture, because you find the same idea in Europe, it doesn’t take into account that, in the States, the will to ensure democracy by exercising a control from on high upon society it is precisely what has come to be identified by the name of liberalism.

So, in the European continental (or perhaps mainly Italian) use, it is called liberal someone who is against state invasiveness in people’s life, while in the American use it is so called someone who is favorable to state intervention in it. Which makes embarrassing any time I speak of liberalism to Americans, having to explain in which way I mean it. While talking of this with the LD, he remarked that the ambiguity is avoided by speaking in the continental sense of “classical liberalism”. If that was the classical, pristine sense of the word, what then needs to be accounted for, to explain the said schizophrenia, is how liberal aversion to state intervention turned into favoring it.

In the States, often those who refuse state invasiveness into people’s life also like to call themselves libertarian. Now, “libertarians”, over against “liberals”, are ranked among “conservatives”. But here again there is an ambiguity, because conservative embraces also communitarians. And libertarians and communitarians are not necessarily the same thing.

Liberal, libertarian, are cognate words, both having to do with liberty. Communitarian, instead, has to do with community. Beautiful things, community and liberty, together they make up what in the Christian inheritance we call love: that reciprocity of eros (the desire of the good that can only come from someone else’ graciousness) and agape (the disposition to be so gracious toward someone else) that represents the common law of society, prior to any state legislation.

I have to recall these things, be it in short strokes, because, even though they should be known to all, they are no longer part of our public education. Being hidden behind the all but clear distinction of politics and religion on which European as well as American public debate rests.

Of course Christianity didn’t invent love. Peculiar to it, when it enjoins to love one’s “enemies” as well as one’s “friends”, meaning the out-group as well as the in-group, it’s the extension it gave to it. In as far as it joins people together, within its bounds the body politic is in any case religious; by the commandment to love “enemies”, Christianity doesn’t actually tear down group boundaries, but makes them all permeable, universalizes the religious bond and potentially makes of humanity as such one body politic. As a matter of fact it introduces, by so doing, a distinction of church and state elsewhere absent: with the church, as representative of universal humanity, and the state of its local concretions. Following the modern crisis of Christendom culminating with the protestant reformation, the European states declared themselves sovereign, superiorem non recognoscens, absolute representative of the humanity of their people, more subjects than citizens. This meant that the states declared themselves the supreme legislators within their boundaries.

Liberals and sheer libertarians, as distinguished from communitarians, share then this common assumption: that it is the state to make the law. Once this is granted, the fact that the ones favor the law maker’s invasiveness into peoples’ lives and the others abhor it becomes secondary. The turning of classical liberalism into now days liberalism becomes then understandable. And the strife between the two a matter of taste. Unless we take from communitarians a rejection of that assumption, as inherently tyrannical.

To escape such a tyranny peoples emigrated to the new world, and the founding fathers made of America that experiment at which authors like Alexis de Toqueville could look at as a paradigm. If a risk De Toqueville saw in it was that of the tyranny of majority, but kept at bay by the religion of the people, that preserved the States from becoming a state in the absolute, totalitarian European way. But today the risk, in a European fashion, is rather the opposite, that of a self-declared enlightened elite, that despises the majority, when, with its culture and religion, doesn’t follow its lead. Thus putting an end to the experiment.

I called it an experiment in liberalism, to maintain the appeal to the “liberal tradition”, when it doesn’t succumb to the temptation of authoritarian control. If we recall that from the same root it comes also the word liberality (largess in giving), we can recognize in America an experiment in holding together community and liberty.

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