John Fonte’s groundbreaking analysis of the new version of humanitarianism details its privileging of racial and gender categories and divisions in its vision of Humanity. He refers to it as “Transnational Progressivism.” It is very much an American phenomenon (although with European collaborators, as we might suspect).
Fonte’s 2002 article, “Liberal Democracy versus Transnational Progressivism: The Future of the Ideological Civil War Within the West,” begins with his own eye-opening phenomenon: the 2001 “United Nations World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance” held in Durbin, South Africa, shortly before 9-11.
Recently, Amsterdam’s city council forbade the use of the locution “Ladies and Gentlemen” within its halls and precincts. This was not in the interests of strict accuracy: Many women, after all, are not ladies, and many men are not gentlemen. Rather, it was to avoid upsetting those who considered themselves neither male nor female, or considered themselves both.
Needless to say, no evidence that the locution caused any widespread distress, let alone harm, needed to be adduced. The prohibition was an exercise in power not an expression of sensitivity. It was a Lilliputian step in the creation of a vast empire of virtue, or supposed virtue, in which the rulers will enjoy simultaneously the awareness of their own goodness and the pleasures of bullying others.
The recent violence at Trump rallies has been the work of protesters, not of his supporters. I am no fan of Trump, but he has as much right to speak without disruption as any citizen. Indeed, it is even more important to afford him that right than ordinary citizens, because he is the presumptive nominee of one of our two major parties. Violence distracts from the debating his ideas, such as they are, and will create greater political polarization at the expense of deliberation.
Sadly, there is a connection between this violence and the enforcement of political correctness in our educational institutions today. The disruptive protesters at Trump rallies are almost all young—recent products of our educational system. They are thus steeped in the unreformed religion that dominates our schools—one where error has no rights.
Indeed, when Trump 2016 was chalked on the sidewalk of Emory University, the administration began an investigation into who wrote it. More generally, college administrators have permitted events to be cancelled because of the threat of disorder without speaking out against such cancellations.
A friend over at NRO’s Postmodern Conservative blog recently asked which contemporary French authors might profitably be read by American conservatives. As a Francophone who has translated French philosophers from this and previous centuries, I thought I’d contribute my two cents.
My criteria were: 1) What could help American conservatives better understand Europe, the evolving nature of liberal democracy, and the pathologies of the age, both abroad and at home? and 2) Who are the contemporary French authors who could speak to a fairly diverse cohort?
Last week Francis Fukuyama revisited his justly famous article, “The End of History,” which in 1989 argued that history, in a Hegelian sense, was coming to an end. With the breakup of the Soviet bloc, liberal democracy had won, and there were no real ideological competitors. As Fukuyama himself recognizes, 2014 does not look like 1989, but he nevertheless argues that liberal democracy remains effectively the only plausible system for modernity.
Fukuyama’s defense of his own work is thoughtful, but his original thesis suffers from a problem that is playing out now all over the world. There are inherent tensions in liberal democracy that ensure that history continues. By protecting liberties, liberalism prioritizes individuals, while democracy necessarily prioritizes a collective right—the right of a people to govern themselves and impose obligations and indeed trench on the liberties of others.
In a constitutional republic such as ours, we try to resolve that tension by permitting democracy for ordinary politics while enshrining rights that are beyond majority control. But even here with a constitution that has lasted for two hundred years the mixture is unstable. Just consider current conflict between campaign finance regulation and the First Amendment. Around the world the conflict is truly combustible.
Fukuyama acknowledges that some nations that looked in the 1990s as if they were moving to liberal democracies are backsliding today, but he does not discuss how this problem reflects in large measure the basic tension within liberal democracy itself.
Ilya Somin wrote a response to my post on democracy in Egypt. As Ilya notes, we largely agree on the issues, including my additional points that democracy requires both compromise and periodic elections rather than one election, and that constitutions ought to be enacted by supermajority rules. In turn, I agree with Ilya that there may be tragic choices as to whether to violently displace a majority elected government that is repressive. But I did want to clarify one point about terminology. I agree with Ilya that some people use democracy to mean government chosen by majority vote and some…
Over at the Volokh Conspiracy, Ilya Somin argues that “it isn’t inherently hypocritical for liberal democrats to – in some cases – support the overthrow of an elected government.” The reason, Ilya writes, is
because democracy is not the only important liberal value, and not always the most important one. At the very least, the liberal tradition, broadly defined, also values individual freedom, equality for women, toleration of religious and ethnic minorities, economic progress, and the prevention of mass murder, slavery, and genocide. Most of the time, democracy promotes these other liberal values better than the available alternative regimes. But not always. Democracy and liberal values conflict in cases where public opinion is highly illiberal and cases where the democratic process brings to power parties that intend to shut down future political competition. Both problems are relevant to the present situation in Egypt and at least some other nations.
I agree with Ilya, but there is more going on here. Democracy is a vague concept. A single election can be thought of as democracy, but few thoughtful people would defend it as such. Democracy, even if it is not necessarily liberal democracy, still requires a system whereby the people’s will is regularly consulted and done in a fair process. Morsi instituted decrees that purported to be unreviewable by the courts. Such absolute power is not the way to have democracy. Morsi’s defenders have said little about this.
But there is another aspect of both democracy and consensual government, and that is compromise. If a majority of the people or the legislature favors a policy, that does not necessarily mean it should be instituted, if a large minority strongly disapproves of it. This is a tricky issue, but consensual government involves compromises and it appears Morsi was having none of it.
“All we ask is that law and policy be based upon reason.” So begins Ralph Hancock’s latest book, Responsibility of Reason: Theory and Practice in a Liberal-Democratic Age. This opening quote was actually delivered by a frustrated political scientist at an academic conference, who asserted “the authority of simple reason” against perceived rubes who doubt its truth or rather its efficacy for impartially reconciling competing claims within a pluralist democracy.