Illiberal delusions of depth

In general, the social sciences teach us more about societies of social scientists than it does society in general.

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Show me an example of political or sociological “realism” — a claim of inalterable facts — and I’ll show you an ideologue with an investment in society being some particular way. It might even be the key to an intellectual’s soul.

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Once the foundations of liberalism erode away, and public opinion starts asking hard questions of public truths grown complacent through luxuriation in universal acceptance, the truth of liberal values are anything but self-evident. They epitomize vapid conventionality, and all-too-conveniently, most of the people who continue to uphold them do so through inertia and timidity.

In times like these it almost requires a radical’s personality to excavate the layers of pious dust and quotidian debris that settle over generally accepted moral facts and to burrow into the ground where the wellsprings of liberal morality still flow clear. It turns out, these apparent self-evident (that is, long unexamined) moral principles, such as the ultimate value of the individual, the importance of free speech, thought and action, the exercise of reason, and above all, pluralism are not in the least self-evident once they are flooded in long-suppressed illiberal light and tag-team interrogated by left-wing and the right-wing inquisitors.

Fact is, liberalism was never the natural and inevitable state of society once tyrants are removed from the scene, but rather humankind’s hardest-won accomplishment. But the belief that liberalism exists with mere removal of impediments has led to the neglect of liberal education, and especially a self-aware philosophical explanation of morality.

Instead, the last several generation were rigorously trained to emote on demand: to sympathize as intensely as possible at sacred signifiers of its tribe (generally of categories of people) and to produce anger in equal amounts at the tribe’s categorical enemies, who are those who fail to produce the requisite emotions at key symbolic stimuli. Every tribe can produce its own elaborate supporting theories, including its own homegrown theories on why the other tribe’s theories are nonsensical and the result of nefarious influences.

And bystanders who decided to spare themselves all indoctrination and believe themselves independent observers fared no better. In fending off miseducation, they fend off necessary education as well, and fall into ideological traps they are ill-prepared to detect or to escape once they learn whatever “the truth” their habitual reading conceptually habituates them to understand.

At this point I am interested neither in expounding nor defending my views for people who are by nature or second-nature unsympathetic to liberalism. Instead, I plan to continue my private project of exposing the wellsprings of liberalism to those who have already learned to love them. And I do mean learn to love, because love of liberalism is either learned or latent, never accessible to naive or misled minds.

But it is true: as a liberal I do owe my fellow-citizens an account. But I do not owe it on their philosophical terms or their schedule. These are the things you learn when you work at education, which is another word for allowing learning to change you.

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