Can liberalism last forever?

I’ve been engaged in a fascinating discussion with Alan Roebuck here.  The topic:  which is the greater long-term menace, liberalism or Islam?  My instinct has always been that liberalism is the one truly deadly enemy.  I pointed out that liberals hold hegemonic power and majority support throughout the West, while Muslims are, so far, a minority.  For me, it also matters that I find liberalism thoroughly repellent–intellectually, morally, and spiritually–while I have a lot of admiration for Islam.  (A good “Islam-for-conservatives” book is Islam and the Destiny of Man, which I review here.)  Mr. Roebuck made an intriguing rebuttal:  yes, he acknowledges, Islam is less spiritually sick than liberalism, but that actually makes it more dangerous.  Liberalism is so contrary to reality, so destructive of any society that embraces it, that it can’t survive in the long run.  As he puts it

Liberalism is a disease that weakens the body, but Islam is a sword that kills. Both are deadly threats, but the natures of the threats differ. In the absence of external threats like Islam, liberalism would lead to social disintegration that would eventually trigger the reassertion of traditional life, as we have seen repeatedly in the historic record. But if Islam gains the upper hand, permanent dhimmi status is our only future, unless an outside force defeats Islam.

Jim Kalb also makes claims like this from time to time–that liberalism will eventually erode the social order, leading to balkanization and the reassertion of illiberal forces.  Both Dr. Roebuck and Lawrence Auster have noted that liberalism seems incabable of recognizing any enemy outside the white Christian West; in the long run, liberalism may one day destroy (or, as Mr. Auster would say in his darker moods, fulfill) itself by submitting to Islam.

Auster, Kalb, and Roebuck are three of the traditionalist thinkers that I hold in the highest esteem, and their opinions should be given due weight.  Also, they advance arguments that no traditionalist can dismiss.  Liberalism certainly erodes community, family, public morality, etc, and it seems that should jeopardize a society.  If their argument is valid, and liberalism is necessarily transitory, this would relieve me of a great emotional burden.  I admit that I am often oppressed by the idea of a complete and lasting liberal victory, that the human race might go on for thousands of generations in complete spiritual darkness.  If liberalism can’t last, then this, the worst imaginable case, shall not come to pass.

I am not yet convinced, though, that liberalism necesarily destroys its host society.  Consider the following:

  1. Liberalism is not the same as decedance.  For example, during the Renaissance, sexual mores were loose among both laity and clergy.  A husband or priest could father illegitimate children without much social stigma.  It was a decadent society.  The rules themselves (monogamy and clerical celibacy) were, however, hardly challenged.  There was no organized force wishing that adultery should be not only common but celebrated, that the unenforced rule should be replaced by another rule that should be enforced (e.g. “tolerance”).  Ours is not a decadent society.  Social control is very strong; everyone knows they’d better not step an inch out of line, or there’ll be hell to pay.  It’s just that, instead of condemning adultery, we condemn housewives.  Instead of condemning sodomy, we condemn criticism of sodomy.  I would even say that both social control and public indoctrination are stronger today than for any previous society in history.  It was easier to be a heretic in the Middle Ages than it is to be a non-liberal now.  Not that the medieval Church was more tolerant, but it’s resources for coercion were far inferior to the modern media-state complex. Our situation is unprecedented, so we can get little guidance from history.
  2. It’s not clear that Islam will survive its contact with liberalism.  It’s not mere ideological blindness that leads liberals to seek alliance with Muslim immigrants.  The latter have been reliable wedge minorities and Leftist voters.  Nor have the liberals been reluctant to plan the dagger thrust at their current ally.  For example, Hillary Clinton has recently declared that the promotion of sodomy is the United States’ number one priority on the African continent.  No doubt Geert Wilders is pleased.  Unlike the Catholic Church, Islam has never had to face the brunt of the liberals’ wrath.  We’ll see how they hold up.
  3. The problems faced by the liberal West seem serious, but hardly insurmountable.  In some cases, further doses of liberalism will solve them, although in monstrous ways.  A growing aging population can be reduced by euthanasia.  More births may be encouraged by removing parental responsibilities and having children raised by the state.  Society may be falling apart in some ways, but only those ways that actually increase the power of the liberal state.  Divorce, illigitimacy, even the violent crimes that (as Mr. Auster often notes) the state makes little attempt to curb, all these serve the interests of the liberal state by eroding the bonds of solidarity needed for nonliberal attachments to grow.  (Muggings and murders discourage an attachment to one’s local community.)  When we say “things are falling apart”, we mostly mean compeditors of the liberal state.  The latter, of course, doesn’t see this as a problem.

I’m not saying that I disagree with the Roebuck/Kalb/Auster thesis.  It may well be true, and no one would be happier than I if I could be certain of it.  I just don’t think that the argument is airtight yet.  Let wiser traditionalists take this as a challenge.

13 Responses

  1. The idea of Liberalism’s eventual collapse could be just as deadening to resistance as the Marxist idea of capitalism’s eventual collapse. If it’s inevitable, we don’t have to work hard to bring it about, and we don’t have to work hard to defend our culture against it.

    In fact, Liberalism will use the fight against Islam to strengthen itself, while also using Islam to attack Christianity and traditionalism.

    More Muslim allies will be imported into the US, where they will be used as an excuse to downplay Americans’ Christian heritage and cultural unity. Simultaneously, U.S. traditionalists will be demonized as the American Taliban and as islamophobes.

    The suppression of Christianity at home will be depicted as a national security interest, since if we’re too Christian the Muslims will like us less. (Nevermind that Muslim nations think we’re not religious enough, according to a recent poll)

    Cultural leftists will be allowed fiefdoms overseas to remake Islam according to their image. This too creates a patronage network and strengthens Liberal power.

  2. Hello again Bonald,

    I’m honored that you’ve taken my friendly disagreement seriously enough to continue the conversation. Let iron sharpen iron.

    One minor correction: You referred to me as Dr. Roebuck, but I only hold an MA (in mathematics, from UCLA, where I also earned a BS degree in physics). My professorship is at a community college.

    To the point: It seems to me that the assertion of mine that you question is true almost by definition: if liberalism as a comprehensive system tells falsehoods about just about everything, then by definition it would be incapable of being the ruling religion of any society that is cohesive enough to persist through time. It’s not that I am, in Marxian fashion, prophetically predicting the inevitability of my enemy’s downfall. I’m just pointing out the obvious (or the semi-obvious.)

    But liberalism is currently in the driver’s seat, and liberals feel no shame making use of what Auster has called “unprincipled exceptions” to their liberalism in order to make the society they rule barely functional. We can therefore expect liberalism to persist for the foreseeable future, doing massive harm to our society. It’s also possible that liberalism will mutate into something less radical, so it can avoid killing off its host, and remain in power. For these and other reasons, we must actively oppose liberalism, not just smugly wait for it to collapse.

    [But let’s not discount the value of raising our spirits by understanding that liberalism’s eventual doom is certain. This would be a secular analog of how knowing the eventual triumph of Christ raises a Christian’s spirits.]

    The question that originally provoked my comments was whether or not to support Geert Wilders. Consider the following analogy:

    Imagine a community of people living in a sewer. Although most citizens do not enjoy the sewage, the society’s leaders constantly preach that sewage is good, and that those who wish to be clean are a menace. So most ordinary people resign themselves to living amid sewage, and they try to convince themselves that it has its advantages. Besides, since it’s so hard to get clean, those who call for cleanliness can become a nuisance.

    Now imagine a small group of people setting fires. The authorities, however, only take action against those who set really big fires, and they make only halfhearted efforts to put out the flames. Extinguishing fires and punishing arsonists puts a damper on creativity and diversity, after all.

    The sewer community represents the West, with the sewage, of course, representing the tangible effects of liberalism. The arsonists represent pious Moslems living in the West. The religion of Islam, even if many nominal Moslems don’t care or are unaware, calls for attacking non-Moslems with the goal of forcing them to submit to Islam. Therefore pious Moslems are analogous to arsonists: they are actively attempting to destroy our way of life, even if they also oppose the sewage.

    Geert Wilders is the only high-profile Western politician calling for the extinguishing of fires and the deportation of arsonists. One could argue that he is worthless because he approves of the sewage, but consider the short-term alternatives: sewage plus arson (if someone else is prime minister), or sewage plus some action taken against arson (if Wilders is prime minister.)

    Sewage kills you relatively slowly; arson does it quickly. Wilders should be supported in his opposition to Moslem immigration and subversion, even as he should be opposed when he approves of sewage.

  3. This is shaping up to be a great discussion.

    KJ, I agree with your points completely. It seems to me that Muslim immigration together with cultural subversion are serving the liberals’ interests quite well. They know what they’re doing. I suspect that, when the time comes that Islam is more a menace than a help to their power, they will be able to turn on it quite vigorously. Thinking about what that clash would look like would be worth a post of its own. I would only qualify one of your statements: Mr. Roebuck gives reasons why his position should not induce complacency.

    Professor Roebuck, I hoped that, being a mathematician, you wouldn’t be able to resist the call to supply a proof. (Usually it’s we physicists who are sloppy and don’t care about that stuff.) You point toward two lines of reasoning in your above reply: 1) liberalism is wrong about so many things, it will be unable to maintain the allegiance of its subjects or protect its own interests effectively in the long run; 2) liberalism only functions because of “unprincipled exceptions”, so it could never exist in its pure state.

    For argument 1, I accept the premise, but I’m not sure about the conclusion. Liberalism is wildly wrong about a lot of things, but it seems very good at pursuing its own interests, it does a good enough job of making sense of the world (albeit through falsehoods and contradictions) to satisfy most people, and it does a pretty good job of inspiring loyalty to itself.

    As you point out, though, liberalism succeeds in these things in a host society that is not purely liberal. Hence your second argument, which I like very much and I think will be the key to establishing your conclusion, if it can be done at all. Let me try to think this through for myself. The claim is “no society can be both purely and stably liberal”. Purely liberal means no illiberal elements (religion, kinship or national loyalties, etc). Stably liberal means that it won’t tend to change or degrade in ways that compromise liberal purity. Every type of society has a set of preconditions that must be satisfied for it to stably abide in its own type. If we can prove that, for a liberal society, even one element of this set depends on some illiberal force (piety, patriotism, etc), then the point will be proven: liberalism can never completely win. Of course, this doesn’t mean that it will necessarily totally lose, but we will have proven something quite heartening.

    The only question is which unprincipled exception is there that liberalism can’t do without? I see several possibilities:

    1) Something like the family. It may be that humans can’t develop psychologically without being cared for by a particular person or persons, rather than just by the state in general. This would mean that not everyone is interchangeable to everyone else, which is discrimination.

    2) Ethical grounding. It may be that supreme liberal imperatives like respecting others’ autonomy can’t be justified or motivated except by appeal to illiberal moral principles.

    3) Group loyalty. Although it means “discriminating”, it may be that a liberal society needs its citizens to reflexively defend it from outside enemies.

    4) A demonized Other. Alternatively, liberals may only be able to inspire loyalty by having an illiberal opponent to define itself against: aristocrats, Catholic clergy, capitalists, “fundamentalists”, whites, or whatever.

    I think there’s something to this. I will keep thinking about it.

  4. Bonald, you asked for proof. Well, some propositions are amenable to proof and some are not. The present hypothesis must be approached by looking at broad principles, in somewhat the same way that a physicist facing an ambiguous and complex situation might first apply the broad principle of conservation of energy.

    I agree that the best way to approach a proof is by identifying the non-liberal principles that liberalism relies upon, but cannot supply. In fact, liberalism cannot supply plausible answers to any of the great questions of life, such as God, love, sex, death, morality, the meaning of human life, and so on. Liberalism’s answers are either “whatever, Dude!” or “Because we say so!,” neither of which have any authority. Liberalism has no authority to back it up because it denies God, in which case man is the supreme being. But since everyone knows man is fallible, liberalism’s answers cannot command assent.

    As you’ve identified, the family is a fundamental non-liberal prerequisite for a stable society. Children cannot properly be raised by committee, and liberalism cannot induce people to form families. “To thine own self be true” cannot produce families, just temporary pairings.

    The first three items on your list (family, morality, group loyalty) are all necessities for a stable and properly-ordered society, and of course liberalism cannot supply them because it denies the transcendent and tells people they are gods. To this list one could add a philosophical and religious understanding of reality, for liberalism must deny that any fundamental worldview is true, lest people become intolerant of those with a different worldview. Liberalism is a parasite, and like a real parasite, it requires the relative health of a non-parasitical host.

  5. Thank you again for your insights. Based on the above, it seems we have good reasons to believe that the things we love will not be totally extinguished.

  6. Another thing to consider is that the overwhelming majority of Westerners have no interest in converting to Islam, whereas they gleefully convert to liberalism. Islam will never win the hearts and minds of the common man, while liberalism has had them for a hundred years.

    If there were a concerted campaign by Islam to subdue Europe and North America, then even if it were successful it would result in occupation by a hostile conqueror. On the other hand, with liberalism you have a wholesale acceptance of a destructive ideology. Europe and America could survive being conquered, but I don’t see how they can survive their own suicide. The upshot is that an Islamic conquest would mean the swift death of liberalism–another reason I don’t think it will ever happen.

    Wilders represents a new face of liberalism I think, one that drops the facade of open-mindedness and clearly states “this is what we’re for [liberal hedonism], these people [muslims] aren’t for this, so let’s draw the line”. It should be obvious to Christian traditionalists that this can and will be easily turned against them, and only the various churches’ capitulation to liberalism has spared them thus far.

  7. After listening to this interesting discussion, I would like to offer what to me seem to be likely possibilties:
    1. Liberalism collapses from its own contradictions and from the spiritual emptiness people are more and more experiencing as result from it. A conservative revolution yearning to go back to ‘normalcy’ rids itself from the liberal elites and builds up spiritual sanity again. This would be beautiful but unlikely given the infestation of hedonistic liberalism in all parts of society.
    2. Liberalism succombs to Islam and simply surrenders. This is more likely since liberals are cowards who will threat on the meek, but give in to bullies. Their instinct is to destroy the meek selfsacrifying Christians and surrender to bullying Muslims, who are arrogant like they are. They hate the pure Christians more than the pure Moslims, because the Christians give them a bad conscience, while the Moslims are just threathening bullies.
    3. Liberalism uses Islam for destroying Christianity, and then creating a ‘Brave New World’ like totalitarian society based on pleasure and absolute totalitarian government. This AldousHuxley-like perspective is also likely because of the technological means now available to establish a true ‘reign of the Antichrist’ which of course is their deepest longing.
    4. Western society collapses as a whole as a result of economic, ecological and social calamnities, poverty, polution and social strife all interconnecting to bring the whole fabric down. Then a situation arises similar to the one after the Fall of the Roman Empire. This seems to be the most likely scenario: it happened before, it is likely to happen again.
    The totalitarian rule of No 3 is in fact a new Tower of Bable which seems impossible for human beings to hold. When liberals get this kind of power they will start fighting one another, and the whole things will collapse.

    Whatever may come, I trust in the words of the Gospel: ‘Do not despair, I have overcome the Prince of the world’ and ‘My Kingdom is not of this world’. I console myself with the thought that I could also have lived under Nero or Stalin; the wickedness of this age is not unprecedented, many of my Christian brethren had (and have) to endure even more evil regimes and times.

  8. Mr. Weber may be well-intentioned, but he’s making a fundamental mistake. Sure, if the Islamic nation were to form a new Armada and invade our shores, we’d resist with all we have in us. But Islam is not doing that. Instead, it’s using a combination of intimidation through terrorism and lawsuits, and appealing to our fundamental ruling liberal principle of nondiscrimination. And the campaign is working so far, as Sharia is gaining a beachhead in the West and Islam is gaining most-favored-religion status. And a determined minority always has an excellent chance of defeating a disorganized and dispirited majority.

    Mr. Weber says

    “Europe and America could survive being conquered [by Islam], but I don’t see how they can survive their own suicide [by liberalism].”

    Au contraire. Can anyone point to a nation that was conquered by Islam but then recovered? Only Spain and the Balkans have been rescued from Islamic domination, and these took outside intervention. What outside force would intervene on our behalf?

    We cannot survive being dominated by Islam. We cannot wait first to defeat liberalism, and then turn our guns on the Moslem menace. We must fight both now and Wilders, as objectionable as he may be, deserves our support in his efforts against Islam.

    Let me reiterate a final point: The western liberals are our brothers, decadent and nihilistic though they may be. As our brothers, most of them have some residual sympathy for us. The Moslems are not our brothers, and they have no sympathy for us.

  9. One problem here is that Islam seems scary when you think of it as “Islam”, but when you break it down into all the component parts, i.e. the swath of dysfunctional nation-states in North Africa and South/Central Asia, it becomes much less menacing. These people can barely hold on to their own territory, much less concoct a global pan-Islamic scheme to subdue the world under the crescent.

    Muslims that come to the West often enough end up in the projects, rescued from utter starvation and anarchy by majority largesse. Liberals fantasize that everyone else is secretly a liberal straining to break free of their oppressive institutions. They don’t care about their nominal religion, so they imagine Muslims don’t either. The secret of liberal tolerance is that it isn’t really; liberals tolerate superficial differences, or in other words differences in things they don’t care about, as long as liberalism is unthreatened. If Muslims ever became an actual political threat, we would quickly see how ruthless the liberal ruling elite can be.

    The two ways in which Muslims pose a threat then are terrorism and demographics. Terrorism, while high profile, is not much of a threat. Bin Laden’s crowning achievement was to really annoy us; 9/11 didn’t strategically damage the US at all. Also, terrorism is largely a problem of immigration. No immigration = no ME terrorists in the country to do any damage. Demographically, the US is safe, though Europe may have to face the facts one day. However, there are two aspects to demographics: immigration and birth rates. With respect to immigration, you can blame liberals for opening up Western countries to boatloads of immigrants, including many Muslims. With respect to birth rates, you can again blame liberalism, for emphasizing the satisfaction of short term urges at the expense of…well, everything else. Babies are troublesome, and get in the way of careers and football. If our degenerate populace is replaced by another, then we can lament the loss, but we have no one to blame but ourselves.

    Look at it this way. If there were Islam but no liberalism, as there was for over a thousand years, the West would survive and thrive. If there were no Islam, but liberalism had its nefarious hold on everyone’s mind as it does now, then we’d still be rotting from the inside. Geert Wilders is attempting to defend his way of life, which is a fine motivation, but let’s not kid ourselves into thinking that his way of life is something that Christian traditionalists should bother with defending. The only support I can muster is to say that I’d rather not be ruled by either Muslims or Wilders.

    I’m going to kill this comment before it gets to be 8 pages or something.

  10. Progressivism is a religion and a culture, just like particular types of traditional Christianity or Islam. As such, it has no love for either of them. Traditional Christians get to see this all the time, as progressives smack y’all around. You are not tolerated because you are the competition for power. In the West, Muslims are clients of the progressive state. They are a voting bloc who oppose traditional Christians and whichever parties are their political expression. Therefore progressives love them, and tolerate their religion and culture.

    Even now, the softer organs of the state are turned against Muslims almost as much as traditional Christians. Their kids are getting all the progressive propaganda that anyone else’s kids get. The difference is that they are allowed to reject progressive values without consequence (“multiculturalism”), and they have something to reject progressive values for. Thus, they are not being degraded and atomized the way that Westerners have been. At least, the rate does not seem to be as high. Although in this connection I note that it has taken 3 or 4 generations for progressivism to degrade the traditional Christian working class to what we have now. We have not run the full test on Muslims yet.

    Here my best guess as to what most progressives think: a majority of Muslims will in time assimilate politically to progressive norms. They will, perhaps, retain a vestigial religion that has all the impact of the Episcopal Church. Progressivism being a much smaller culture than Western culture, Muslims will still have plenty of non-Western cultural and religious traits. Thus they will not assimilate completely, and as an identifiable minority they will be easily organized by progressive policy. For the foreseeable future, they will be reliable and pliable clients for progressives, just as blacks and Mexicans are in the USA.

    My own guess is that progressives are wrong about that. Progressives do not know that their religion is a highly streamlined version of Christianity. They don’t think it is a religion at all — it is just what you get by applying pure reason to an objective view of the world as obtained via science. As such, I think they overestimate their ability to infiltrate and emasculate non-Western religions. For that reason I think their program will fail — or at least, it will get closer to failure than progressives will like. In particular, it may get to the point where unreformed Islamic politicians gain significant power. This will probably be tolerated at a local level (just as progressives were willing to abandon American cities to blacks). But I do not think it will be tolerated at a national level.

    If the numbers get to the point where unassimilated Muslims cease to act as clients of progressives, and start to assert themselves within democracy, you’ll see progressives turn against them en masse. (Imagine how they would regard a Christian church and culture that subordinated women, criminalized homosexuality, demanded its own legal system featuring cruel and unusual punishments, and deployed illegal violence to gain those ends.) Then you’ll see the progs turn the power of the state against Islam. I would expect that to be mostly “soft” power (propaganda). But it would probably require, at least a few directly coercive state powers. Controlling immigration, at least.

    Indeed, it is a glimmer of this reaction that you see in Wilders. He is more farsighted than most progressives, and thus has turned against Islam earlier. A sort of premature anti-Islamicist.

    Me, I think the progs will win that battle. It’s easy to view progs as wimps unwilling to fight, but historically speaking that is a huge mistake.

  11. I’m grateful to Professor Roebuck for getting this discussion advertised on View From the Right. Ten comments is a record on a tiny blog like this.

    Like Mr. Weber and Leonard, I believe that the liberals will attack Islam ruthlessly when they perceive it to be a threat, and I believe that they’re capable of making that recognition. Right now, they’re indulgent towards Islam because it’s not a threat, and they know it. (Christianity is also not a threat, unfortunately, but the liberals will never stop attacking it, because attacking Christianity is part of liberalism’s self-understanding. The evil of Christianity is a sort of legitimating myth for liberalism.)

    In my last post, I acknowledged the strength of arguments to the effect that liberalism can never win a complete victory. I take some comfort from this, but we should keep in mind that this is a very weak statement. It doesn’t mean that liberalism will ever be destroyed, or ever even cease to dominate the West, only that little pockets of illiberalism will remain that the liberal state can’t destroy without destroying itself.

  12. At the basis of the argument lie two actual ideologies.

    1. Religious Theocracy as embodied in, eg, Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

    2. Atheism as embodied in, eg, Communism, Socialism and Liberalism (Progressivism). Liberalism is Marxism revamped.

    Religious theocracy is about predominately the soul, ie, (spiritual fulfilment).

    Atheism is about predominately the physical, ie, (gratification of the flesh).

    If one takes only a cursory look at history, one finds that religious theocracy always wins the end game.

    Why?

    Because it emphasises the spiritual being the true essence of Man rather than the physical which is not.

    What the West has to hope and pray for is that, the winning religious theocracy is not Islam even though presently, the pendulum is very definitely swinging in its direction thanks to the preceding triumph of godless Marxist Liberalism.

    Can Christianity, in its collective (all denominations) role, make a sufficiently powerful comeback in time to rescue its Western domain since this is what will be required to turn an already grave situation around?

    This is the multi-million dollar question!

  13. [Late to the party, but I peruse the archives, thanks a lot for that , bonald ]

    I see the current liberalism self-defeating in some very practical ways:

    It is not sustainable economically. For a modern liberal regime it is impossible to have a sustainable finance and monetary policy. All the propagandists must be paid and all these clients must be pampered with not existing money.

    The degradation of the school system will sooner or later ruin the technical competence in the society as a whole. Liberals don’t see that the daily things must be made and cared for. They take this stuff for granted and that is deadly.

    Modern liberals abhor violence and have a difficult relation to the military and police forces. They have to arm and sustain these but despise them because they use weapons.

    Liberalism is a historic period, it has a beginning and an end like every human work.

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