A CONSERVATIVE LAMENTS THE DECLINE OF LIBERALISM
The learned and conservative historian, John Lukacs
, had a fine essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education
a few months back assessing the cultural costs of Liberalism's slow political decline and finds that society has been impoverished
because without liberalism, democracy becomes mere populism ( Hat tip, RJ Rummel
at Democratic Peace
Lukacs is an always interesting writer. First, his scholarship is a throwback to the days before the history profession became enamored with trivialities and esoteric niche specialties. He is in his field, broad, deep, in command of the historiography, but not bound by it. Nor is he afraid to put forward unpopular or controversial thoughts. An excerpt:"When it came to the formation of the democracies of the West, the concepts of liberalism and democracy, while not inseparable, were surely complementary, with the emphasis on the former. Among the founders of the American republic were serious men who were more dubious about democracy than about liberty. They certainly did not believe in -- indeed, they feared -- populism; populism that, unlike a century ago, has now become (and not only in the United States) the political instrument of "conservatives," of so-called men of the "Right." It is significant that in Europe, too, the appeal of the term "liberal" has declined, while "democratic" is the adopted name of a variety of parties, many of them not only antiliberal but also extreme right-wing nationalist.Yes, democracy is the rule of the majority; but there liberalism must enter. Majority rule must be tempered by the rights of minorities and of individual men and women; but when that temperance is weak, or unenforced, or unpopular, then democracy is nothing else than populism. More precisely: Then it is nationalist populism. It may be that the degeneration of liberal democracy to populism will be the fundamental problem of the future. True, many liberals have contributed to the inflation -- the degeneration -- of the original meaning of "liberal." But the acceptance of the word "liberal" as a connotation of something damnable, unhealthy, and odious is to be deplored."
American liberalism, in my view, never recovered from the crisis of confidence it suffered from the debacle of the Vietnam War. The " Best and the Brightest", the Bundy and McNamara type liberals who served JFK and LBJ lost the nerve to stand up to the anti-democratic, anti-American, New Left that savagely damned them for being warmongering racists. An echo of which you can see today when leftist yahoos on the internet castigate moderate liberals like Joe Lieberman as " Republican Lite" and Hillary Clinton as a " war criminal ".
With some exceptions, most liberals today do not have the stomach to stand up to the authoritarian, reactionary, Left like the Adolf Berles, Harry Trumans, Arthur Schlesingers, John Kennedys and Hubert Humphreys did of old. It is easier to stand with them against Tom DeLay than to notice that they, as liberals, have little else in common with the apologists for squalid third world dictatorships. It is a bad bargain for liberalism, for the wingnuts add nothing to the alliance other than the disadvantages of extremism but they gain political respectability from their public association with honorable liberals.
It is hard to remember today how dominant liberalism once was as an American creed. Harry Truman, his party split on the Right and Left wings by dissenting factions, still crushed Thomas Dewey who himself was not exactly a conservative. ( Strom Thurmond, the rebel Dixiecrat in 1948, had previously been notorious among rabid segregationists for his relative liberality on
" the Negro question". Even the Southern racists felt compelled to put forward a "liberal"). After Watergate in 1974 the G.OP. was dangerously close to going the way of the Whigs and Ronald Reagan was then widely viewed as something of a nut, like Goldwater.
Those days are gone.