Our politics is riven between a left whose anger is largely economic and a right whose is largely cultural. Both are illiberal in the classical sense.
Classical liberal philosophy (not modern American “liberalism”) stressed the worth of the individual, and human flourishing through openness and freedom to follow one’s own path. Today’s American right and left both are hostile to that sort of openness. The left always liked big government telling people what to do, and now wants to close us off from a global economy seen as threatening; and to close off debate by delegitimizing opposing viewpoints. The right wants to close off America from immigrants, “the other,” and from cultural evolution.
The latest example of the intolerant left’s allergy toward openness is the movement for campus “safety” – that is, making students “safe” from ideas they might supposedly find unsettling. What a travesty of what a university should be. They prattle about “diversity” yet hate the kind that really matters – diversity of opinion.
The right, or conservatism, used to stand for basically classical liberal ideas, aimed at opportunity for all people. But the perversion of those ideals is epitomized by far the vilest presidential candidate in memory. “He says what he thinks, what others won’t say.” Well, that’s because it’s rancid.
Republicans, for decades, frankly exploited base cultural resentments to get votes and hence the power to promote their worthier policies. But that created a monster that’s now swallowing the GOP. The yahoos it coddled are taking over the party with ugly, disgraceful policies. For all today’s mantra-like invocation of the word “conservative,” this isn’t any kind of principled conservatism – or Republicanism – that this child of ’64 can recognize.
If ever there was a time for “the silent majority,” this is it. I still do not believe the shrill bigots of today’s right and left together represent America. They’re just louder, drowning out more temperate voices; and that turns off the reasonable people toward politics altogether. I myself feel, politically, like my namesake Robinson Crusoe, marooned on deserted island. Yet I will continue to argue for what I consider to be genuinely liberal, humanistic ideas, and against the illiberalism of both left and right.