This article by Walter Russell Mead
from “The American Interest” magazine, is very well-done, but it depresses me, as does the discussion of the article there by a panel of thinkers who have nothing useful to add. However, it provoked the editor of the magazine, Adam Garfinkle, to write the following short book in response, which is about the same theme I’ve been thinking about:
I recommend both of these to people who can stand reading people they disagree with in order to improve their own understanding, but not to people who react dismissively to someone making mistakes they find obvious. (The first part of the Garfinkle book can be downloaded for free.)
If you don’t want to bother: Mead traces the successive political incarnations of liberalism, starting with the Enlightenment and the 1688 revolution in England, through to the present day, thoroughly and accurately, identifies many of the current problems very clearly, and shows that liberalism must change again. Garfinkle explains how globalization and automation have made the old social models fail, how politicians have fallen for attractive abstract theories and ignored their practical consequences, how corruption and plutocracy prevent the system from being fixed. and the causes and effects of declining social capital.
They STILL can’t get out from under their liberal assumptions. They still assume without question that “liberalism” needs to be “fixed”, and they can’t see some very basic things that render their whole project unlikely:
(1) people are not only different from each other individually, but collectively, and how well a political and social system will work depends on who the population is, both culturally and biologically
(2) the degradation of our society and culture that they recognize is happening is not simply an accident of impersonal social forces; there have been and are powerful and influential people and groups driving these changes
(3) they cannot think in terms of traditional moral categories like virtue, sinfulness, duty, loyalty, authority, etc. which liberalism refused to take seriously. (They lament the loss of these things but treat this loss as the inevitable consequence of modernity, because they cannot appreciate them directly but only for their practical usefulness in ordering societies, so they wonder what new principles will serve this function in the future while taking for granted that the old ones are obsolete.)
I am probably speaking too vaguely and abstractly here, in later posts I will try to get more specific.