When Liberalism Grows Up

An interesting read, a bit similar in tone and approach to Adam Gopnik’s A Thousand Small Sanities in its praise of incrementalism and pragmatic approach:

The end of the history of music, at least in the Western classical tradition, can be dated to the warm, rainy evening in August of 1952 in Woodstock, New York, when a pianist first performed John Cage’s “4’33″”, a work consisting solely of four minutes and thirty-three seconds of silence. Cage’s composition was perhaps the natural conclusion of a cultural evolution that began in medieval abbeys and Renaissance courts, thrived in German churches and Italian opera houses, and flourished under Dvorak, Mahler, and Shostakovich.

Despite the uproar over “4’33″”, music did not die. Less than two years later, in July of 1954, Bill Haley and His Comets enjoyed rock and roll’s first major commercial success with “Rock Around the Clock.” Over the next seven decades, popular music exploded, evolved, and globalized: bebop, folk, bossa nova, blues rock, soul, country, glam, reggae, prog rock, disco, punk, metal, new wave, grunge, hip-hop, reggaeton, EDM, K-Pop, mumble rap. Classical music stayed popular, but further innovation in that genre was relegated to the ivory tower, subsidized performing arts centers, and the occasional film score.

Liberalism may be at a similar point today. A combination of social compacts, globalization, demographics, and technology have made evident some of liberalism’s limitations. But we could just as likely see not a reversion to a pre-liberal past, but an explosion of new diverse, experimental, chaotic, and rebellious liberal political traditions.

Liberalism may be at a similar point today. A combination of social compacts, globalization, demographics, and technology have made evident some of liberalism’s limitations. But we could just as likely see not a reversion to a pre-liberal past, but an explosion of new diverse, experimental, chaotic, and rebellious liberal political traditions.

Just as Bob Dylan, the Beatles, or Bob Marley would have sounded jarring to Bach or Brahms, future liberalism may appear almost unrecognizable to today’s observer.And yet, just as the functions and forms of classical music are foundational and familiar to any contemporary performer of popular music (there would be no Beyoncé without Beethoven, no Chance the Rapper without Tchaikovsky), liberalism could well remain the basis of all future politics. Contemporary life almost anywhere in the world is so pervasively imbued with liberalism that it will be impossible to fully escape its gravitational force.

Francis Fukuyama, in his essay “Liberalism and Its Discontents,” mourns the global “wave of discontent” with liberal democracy, a system of governance that ensures checks and balances by combining accountability with the rule of law. He says that liberalism, by ensuring human dignity through tolerance, equal rights, and individual choice, “tends toward a kind of universalism.” He laments the threats now faced by liberalism from within and without—from authoritarian regimes, the economic forces of neoliberalism run amok, and the cultural hollowness created by stoic individualism.

This account of liberalism and its present-day challenges may be zeitgeist-appropriate, but it is not entirely satisfying. One problem is that liberalism, without sufficient context, is frustratingly nebulous. As historian Adam Tooze notes, liberalism “means and has meant many different things:” After all, “John Maynard Keynes, Friedrich Hayek, John Rawls and Margaret Thatcher are all reasonably identified as liberals.”

In fact, depending on your vantage point, two very distinct strains of liberalism either briefly converged or split apart around the time of the French Revolution. There was the bourgeois liberalism of Hanseatic burghers, London coffeehouses, Scottish moral philosophers, and landed American colonists. Then there was proletarian liberalism, which recognized structural inequities and believed that politics was about righting social and economic wrongs in favor of the systemically disadvantaged. Both conceptions arose within the Third Estate; both required rebellion against the ancien régime of the European aristocracy. But they diverged to become the forerunners of the Western political traditions of the right (conservatism, libertarianism, Austrian economics, Christian democracy) and left (progressivism, socialism, Keynesianism, social democracy). In this sense, all modern democratic politics in advanced industrial societies has been a contest between two liberal traditions.

Additionally, liberalism, contrary to Fukuyama’s somewhat Whiggish account of its progress, stumbled from crisis to crisis for much of its history. Despite the 18th-century revolutions, the 19th century was in some ways decidedly illiberal, featuring a reactionary political elite in Europe, chattel slavery in the United States, and global wars of nationalism and colonialism. The first half of the 20th century forced the more liberal powers to contend with fascism and manifestations of competing imperialisms, including colonial competition, domestic oppression, and ideological compromises. In the second half of the century, liberals had to contend against Soviet communism, often prioritizing ends over means. The people of Algeria, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Chile, and South Africa may be forgiven for their lack of nostalgia for the post-World War II liberal international order. Fukuyama’s contention that postwar Europeans “saw the folly of organizing politics around an exclusive and aggressive understanding of nation” does not fully acknowledge Europe’s rigidity when it came to immigration, decolonization, and multiculturalism.

None of this means that liberalism should be jettisoned on grounds of hypocrisy, as its critics frequently conclude; but the case for liberalism is far stronger if made on concrete and material rather than moral grounds. It remains the case that liberalism, not any other ideology, created the conditions for the absence of large-scale conflict and the growth of unprecedented (albeit unevenly distributed) global prosperity over the past three decades.

There are also inconsistencies in Fukuyama’s portrayal of the universality of liberalism. As he observes, liberal individualism has always been at odds with the social proclivities of human beings, especially in “non-Western societies,” where “kin, caste, or ethnic ties are still facts of life.” Yet he subsequently argues that “liberalism properly understood is perfectly compatible with communitarian impulses and has been the basis for the flourishing of deep and diverse forms of civil society.”

There are also inconsistencies in Fukuyama’s portrayal of the universality of liberalism. As he observes, liberal individualism has always been at odds with the social proclivities of human beings, especially in “non-Western societies,” where “kin, caste, or ethnic ties are still facts of life.”

So, is liberalism then universal, or isn’t it? Is it compatible with identity politics—and, if so, to what extent? Those questions remain unresolved; and, being unresolved, they lie at the heart of many of liberalism’s problems today.

For liberalism, the equivalent of John Cage’s “4’33″” composition may have been the evening in August of 2008 when the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics served as an announcement of China’s global ambitions. On the same day, Russian forces entered Georgia. In the same month, Lehman Brothers laid off 1,500 employees, a precursor to its crash and the global financial crisis. In that year, the Chinese navy deployed to the Gulf of Aden in its first modern operations outside its claimed territorial waters. These developments, though obscured by Barack Obama’s historic election victory that November, heralded an end to Western liberal primacy.

Still, liberalism has not come crashing down in the years since. Liberal aspirations—human dignity, individualism, equal rights—remain achievable, desirable, and inherently unobjectionable. What the events of the last twelve years have done is to expose liberalism’s inherent weaknesses. Human beings are not just logical but emotional creatures. Free markets attain miraculous economic growth but undermine equality of opportunity. Access to abundant information does not guarantee enlightenment. Individuals exercising free choice may choose to be tribal. Elected officials exploit these conditions.

The way to perfect these imperfections is not simply to reaffirm liberalism’s moral superiority. It is to tinker continuously with liberalism, exploring the potentially infinite variations upon its themes.

Source: https://www.orfonline.org/research/when-liberalism-grows-up/

Why India’s Muslims Reach for Liberalism

Of note:

By now, the world knows that Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India and his Hindu supremacist Bharatiya Janata Party (B.J.P.) have eroded the liberal principles of the Indian Constitution and are turning the country into an increasingly illiberal democracy. It is common knowledge that Mr. Modi thrives on the grievances and bigotries that pit privileged majorities against minorities living in fear.

Less familiar, but much more hopeful, is the response of the main target of this majoritarian assault: India’s Muslim minority — roughly 172 million people who account for just about 14.2 percent of India’s total population of approximately 1.32 billion people, roughly 79.8 percent of whom are Hindu.

This large religious minority of Muslims has gone through a hard time in recent years at the hands of Hindu supremacists: They have faced lynchings, lethal riots, and social and political disenfranchisement.

When minorities are pushed to such walls, they may retreat into a siege mentality that breeds radicalization. But India’s Muslims have not come up with calls for violent jihad, nor chants for Shariah law. Instead, they have embraced and emphasized the blessings of liberal democracy by placing their faith in the Constitution of India and insisting on their constitutional rights as citizens.

This hopeful tack was most visible during the mass protests for three months that started in December against the Citizenship Amendment Act, an unabashedly discriminatory law enacted by the government that fast-tracked citizenship for Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist immigrants from neighboring countries, but not for Muslims, whom Home Minister Amit Shah tried to dehumanize as “termites.”

Mr. Shah has also proposed a national register of citizens requiring documentary evidence for place of birth and residence that many Indians, especially the poor, lack. Of these the non-Muslims could escape through the loophole in the new Citizenship Amendment Act, but Muslims would find themselves stateless and liable to be put into detention camps.

In response, Shaheen Bagh, a neighborhood in New Delhi, held a 101-day sit-in against the citizenship law and the proposed citizenship registry, with the protest led not by conservative Muslim clerics, but by Muslim women. Thousands occupied a protest tent 24 hours each day by rotating in shifts and displaying banners saying, “We stand for peace, harmony and fraternity.” They also showed portraits of the Hindu leaders who led India’s independence movement, and festooned their dais with the preamble of the secular Constitution.

The B.J.P.’s propaganda machine depicted Muslim protesters as “traitors” and “anti-nationals,” but they were wearing headbands saying, “I love India.” waving Indian flags, and repeatedly singing the national anthem.

In other campaigns, Indian Muslim women in recent years challenged not just Hindu supremacism but also patriarchy within their own community. Through successful appeals to the Supreme Court — which upholds India’s constitutional principles — they obtained a legal ban in 2017 on “instant divorce,” a contested Shariah ruling that gives Muslim men the right to abandon their wives at will. Another Muslim women’s group gained a 2016 court decision that enforced women’s constitutionally guaranteed right of equal entry, along with men, to a Sufi shrine in Mumbai.

All such liberal moves, according to Sharik Laliwala, a Muslim Indian commentator, signify “a fundamental transformation in the political strategy of the Muslim community.” Indian Muslims, he added, are “marrying a constitutional phraseology of freedom, justice and equality with religious notions.”

Irfan Ahmad, an Indian anthropologist based at the Max Planck Institute in Germany, argues that what is happening is a new emphasis rather than a transformation, which Indian Muslims have always sought along with pluralism. The protests in Shaheen Bagh, he adds, highlighted the rift between the B.J.P.’s rule by and for the Hindu majority and a new vision of democracy that would uphold the rights and dignity of all Indians, including Muslims.

Yet there is still a danger that B.J.P. ruthlessness may backfire and drive Muslims into radicalism. In September, Umar Khalid, a secular left-wing student leader who is Muslim, was arrested on highly contested charges of orchestrating Hindu-Muslims riots last February in Delhi, where most victims were Muslim.

All of this means that India is on a very wrong track. A country that does not treat its minorities as equal human beings will be not the world’s biggest democracy, but rather a tyranny of the majority.

The results may be social strife, radicalism, decline of economic progress, and the ruination of India’s image abroad. The country is already being criticized by human rights organizations for violating human rights in Kashmir, and more recently for forcing Amnesty International’s office in India to close.

India’s story could hold lessons for Muslims elsewhere. Across the border, Pakistan long ago established what India’s B.J.P. seeks: an ethno-religious state dominated by the majority. In Pakistan’s case, this means the hegemony of Sunni Muslims at the expense of minorities such as Shiite Muslims, Ahmadis or Christians.

Farther in the East, in Malaysia, Malay-Muslim supremacy has been an official ideology since the founding of the multireligious nation in 1957. In Turkey, the Islam-infused populism of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, with its own insatiable wrath against “traitors” and “anti-nationals,” has strong parallels with Mr. Modi’s populism. And in the parlance of Islamist movements everywhere, “liberalism” and “secular state” are only dirty words, if not heresies.

Alas, it seems that many Muslims in countries other than India enjoy the tyranny of the majority when they themselves are in the majority and control the state, while others realize the blessings of liberalism if they are in minorities. Of course, such a double standard is neither virtuous nor defensible.

A more principled Muslim view of politics is needed, and for that, Muslim opinion leaders should observe the experience of their coreligionists in India. The latter, the largest religious minority in the world, has an important story with a lesson: Human rights and liberties must be defended in every nation, in every civilization. Without them, only power rules. And instead of betting on power, which may be won or lost, they should try to constrain it everywhere, so that no one group is oppressed and everyone is free.

Mustafa Akyol, a contributing Opinion writer, is a senior fellow on Islam and modernity at the Cato Institute, and the author of the forthcoming book “Reopening Muslim Minds: A Return to Reason, Freedom, and Tolerance.” Swaminathan S. Anklesaria Aiyar, a research fellow at the Cato Institute, is a columnist for The Times of India, and a commentator for India’s television.

ANDREW COYNE: It’s time for old-school conservatism and liberalism to defend their common values

Good column:

Why would anyone describe himself as a conservative? While we’re at it, why describe yourself as a liberal? Or socialist? Or libertarian? The point is not that there is anything wrong with any of these — only that there is something right with all of them. Each of the traditions, that is, has something to teach us. Why limit yourself to just one?

Still, people do. The desire to belong to a tribe – or perhaps, to quarrel with another – is one of the deepest urges of humanity. But tribalism, ideological or other, is not just self-blinding. On occasion it leads to madness. Consider the present state of conservatism, a tribe that has, as the past week has illuminated, lost its way, if not its mind.

If it were just a matter of Donald Trump’s racist attacks on four racial-minority congresswomen – the latest in a long series, but arguably the worst — it might be put down to his own personal depravity. If it were just the chants (“send her home’’) of the people at his rally in Greenville, N.C., it might be written off as the ravings of a lunatic fringe.

But Trump, it is abundantly clear, stands atop a vast infrastructure: the Republican leaders who shrug off his abuses for the sake of party unity; the commentators who look the other way so long as he champions their pet causes; the base who are content with whatever he does so long as it annoys the liberal media; and underpinning all, a set of beliefs – superstitions, prejudices, call them what you will – that predate Trump, but which he has helped to make the credo of the conservative movement.

It was convenient that in the same week as Trump was issuing such crude appeals to hatred and bigotry, a group of academics, journalists and politicians were meeting at a hotel in Washington in an attempt to give a veneer of intellectual credibility to Trumpism. The “National Conservatism” conference underlined how completely conservatism, at least in the United States, has been turned on its head.

The conservatism of the post-war decades, a sometimes uneasy coalition of social conservatives, free marketers and hawkish internationalists, has been replaced by a populist-nationalist conservatism marked by hatred of “globalist” elites, hostility to immigration and fear of foreign trade, and by its enthusiasm for whichever strongman will protect America from these.

Where conservatives were traditionally advocates of limited government, wary of government intervention and worried about deficits, today’s conservatives embrace many of the same limitless-government approaches as the left – “collectivism rebranded for the right,” as the Republican-turned-independent Congressman Justin Amash calls it.

Where conservatives were skeptics of change, pragmatists seeking to reconcile the necessity of reform with the wisdom of tradition, the Trumpians are as reckless as they are reactionary, heedless to the social and institutional harm they have caused in the name of Making America Great Again.

And as the conference highlighted, the civic nationalism that American conservatives used to cherish – the nation to which anyone could belong so long as they subscribed to the basic ideals of the American political system, not least its reverence for the equality of every individual under the Constitution – has been replaced by a more culturally-specific, if not ethnic definition, majoritarian and monocultural rather than liberal and pluralist, that is not easily distinguished from xenophobia or indeed racism: identity politics for white people.

Canadians will be familiar with this from, for example, the Bill 21 debate. Still, few in this country would go so far as the University of Pennsylvania law professor who told the conference that, as people from certain cultures were more likely to fit into a “modern advanced society” like the United States, and as those people came mostly from Europe and the First World, and as those societies are “mostly white for now,” it followed that “our country will be better off with more whites and fewer nonwhites.” But not, you know, in a racist way.

This is, as The Economist put it in a recent issue, “not an evolution of conservatism, but a repudiation of it.” The conservatism I grew up with was basically a species of liberalism, part of the same Western liberal inheritance but more alert to liberalism’s potential for overreach. Its mission was, if you like, to save liberalism from the liberals. As such it represented a continuous tradition that, even as it changed with the times, represented certain enduring ideals. How can the very opposite set of ideas also be called conservatism without doing violence to the language?

Perhaps, as others have suggested, this is naive. Maybe there are no permanent or defining principles of conservatism, independent of its practitioners. Perhaps conservatism is whatever self-described conservatives happen to believe at the time. Trump enjoys the approval of 90 per cent of Republicans; even in Canada, according to a recent Abacus Data poll, 46 per cent of Canadian Conservatives have either a positive or neutral impression of him. Maybe it’s time to concede the point.

If so, then perhaps it is time for a more fundamental political realignment. If conservatism is now to mean its opposite, perhaps it is time for conservatives of the old school to make their peace with liberalism – for the two estranged children of the Enlightenment to reunite in defence of its values. The differences between them that once seemed so great look trivial now, compared to what they have in common, and in light of what they both oppose.

Source: ANDREW COYNE: It’s time for old-school conservatism and liberalism …https://www.thechronicleherald.ca/…/andrew-coyne-its-time-for-old-school-conservati…