2016 December 06 Tuesday
Liberal Manifest Destiny Not Happening

I've been reading a lot of books and articles to understand why, in academia and mainstream media, the West is going so wrong. In academia the lunatics are increasingly in charge. Also, in foreign policy the elites are pushing liberal universalism in spite of running up against increasing resistance. Elite promoters of the spread of liberalism (e.g. George W. Bush and Hillary Clinton) refuse to process and learn from the last 20 years of consequences from US interventions. Parenthetically, what's a bit strange about the push for liberal universalism at the global level is the extent to which this is happening while the cultural left in America are increasingly against free speech, reason, and truth.

Some secular liberals think there is a single right set of liberal values that everyone in the world will some day embrace. Some call this liberal universalism. But my favorite phrase to describe this is liberal manifest destiny. It seems to capture the idea better. In the 19th century manifest destiny was the idea that the USA was destined to rule north America coast-to-coast. This was a triumphant, expansionist, and justifiably confident view of America since its advocates actually won. Today's liberals and progressives believe their values are destined to sweep the world and the more hawkish among them (e.g. George W. Bush and Hillary Clinton) willing to use military force to achieve their manifest destiny.

The problem is that today's liberal manifest destiny is not so destined to succeed. Liberalism even seems to be going into retreat for a number of reasons including varying degrees of rejection of liberalism by other civilizations, most notably the Islamic realm. Samuel Huntington, in his Clash Of Civilizations, argued that liberal universalism was a cause of conflict between the major world civilizations because liberalism isn't really universal in appeal. I agree with that view.

Huntington points to China and the Islamic countries as the two civilizations which are most willing to resist Western civilization. As the US and Western countries have intervened in Islamic countries the resistance to the the West has grown and taken a number of forms including terrorism. Liberals and progressives are having a hard time trying to reconcile their universalism with the demands and anger of Muslims. The most left-leaning see all of the world in terms of who is the oppressor and who is the oppressed. Many of them have tried to Islam fit within their belief system by painting Muslims as the oppressed. This allows them to claim that morally inferior oppressors in the West are to blame for why Muslims are unhappy with the West. This view demonstrates a failure to understand the extent of incompatibilities between civilizations and the intractable nature of these incompatibilities. Here is an essay on this topic: Islam is the rock on which the liberal order broke?

THIS challenge proved most difficult for Western liberalism to process; large numbers (probably clear majorities) of Muslims simply did not accept the most fundamental assumptions of the post-enlightenment Western worldview. This was such an alien thought (especially to those on the Left side of the liberal spectrum) that it was repeatedly obfuscated under other categories ("poverty" , "colonialism", etc). For this resistance exposed and undermined the universal validity of the whole liberal project. And it continues to do so. And as these events multiply, they evoke rethinking in other groups. The emperor can start looking ragged, if not completely naked.

This rejection of liberalism outside of the West (and by immigrants from other civilizations) is happening while at the same time classical liberalism is under an escalating attack by postmodernists within the West. These postmoderns hold a number of other values above free speech and truth seeking. The "Safe Spaces" postmoderns in universities - and increasingly in other institutions - are attacking free speech and free thought and the unrestricted search for truth. See this video: "Two incompatible sacred values in American universities" Jon Haidt, Hayek Lecture Series

For another excellent discussion of what's going wrong with the Left and academia see: Joe Rogan Experience #877 - Jordan Peterson

It is a long discussion but worth your time.

Why has the Left gotten so crazy with safe spaces, microaggressions, and political correctness? Are they aware they do not make sense? Razib Khan argues they know they aren't making sense but see their absurd arguments as boosting their power and increasing their odds of victory. The cultural Left do not pretend to be liberal any more and we are watching The Ending of the Liberal Interregnum. This makes the use of the term "liberal" problematic. With a rising fraction of the Left no longer like 20th century welfare state liberals, let alone like 19th century classical liberals, terms like cultural Left and cultural Marxism seem potentially useful. Also, progressives as a separate sort of creature from liberals also seems to make more sense.

The failure of communist economic systems and the growing success of capitalism damaged the Left's faith in their own Marxist manifest destiny. But they did not want to just give up. So they shifted tactics and strategy. With reason no longer on their side they responded by attacking the Enlightenment and reason. They promoted philosophers who attacked the Enlightenment. Political correctness is a manifestation of this, an attempt to assert power by defining what is morally legitimate to say and therefore control which policy options are morally legitimate.

Academics who are anti-enlightenment and anti-Western have grown in number and conquered whole departments and disciplines. The left-leaning professors who value open debate and truth have been put very much on the defensive. These increasingly archaic liberals on the Left fear speaking honestly to students and to present thinking that contradicts assorted progressive doctrines. Democracy-supporting liberals are faced with losses on that front as well. Support for democracy is declining globally. Also, countries that are democracies go thru periods of declining support of democracy before they cease to be democratic.

Some of liberals are trying to organize a defense of truth-seeking, viewpoint diversity, open debate, and free speech. See Heterodox Academy as a notable attempt. I think they are fighting a losing cause because their opponents are more numerous and far more dedicated to winning than to truth. The truth seekers probably need to surrender some universities and cluster in a smaller number of other universities where they could possibly establish an academic majority against postmodern progressive intellectual thugs.

You can see how absurd academia has gotten under the postmoderns by following RealPeerReview on Twitter.

By Randall Parker 2016 December 06 08:12 PM 
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