Liberalism Is Dead, Long Live Liberalism
Top Stories of the Year: #5
It's time to count down the top five stories of the year, looking back at the big events of 2016 and reviewing my coverage of them.
We'll start the countdown with #5, a continuation of a long-running story, but one that reached new milestones this year: the ongoing death throes of "liberalism," as the American left slips back toward its totalitarian roots.
The message from two years ago, when I became a reluctant draftee in the Culture War, was that the left's version of that war is targeting everyone. The story of last year was that Political Correctness is turning back onto the universities that spawned it, and being a traditional liberal in good standing won't protect you.
This trend at the universities continued in 2016 and hit a new milestone when Emory University reacted to the supposed crime of pro-Trump chalk drawings by vowing to use security camera footage to track down and punish the wrongthinkers.
It’s official: the campus is now a one-party surveillance state. If you support the wrong political candidate, the security apparatus of the university will be harnessed to unmask you and prosecute you for hooliganism. University totalitarianism has arrived.
Not content to police their students' political loyalties, the universities have also begun to declare war on retrograde lifestyles like traditional masculinity, which they declare to be toxic.
In their crusade for “inclusion,” these fake advocates of tolerance are actually installing a new social stigma in place of the old ones—a stigma against “antiquated” traditional masculinity. They replace “homophobia” with their own brand of prejudice. Call it “brophobia.”...
The stoking of brophobia reflects the left’s basic problem with the concept of “tolerance.” They use the word to mean, “advocacy on behalf of groups we like and against groups we don’t like,” which is the exact opposite of its actual meaning. Tolerance is supposed to mean tolerance specifically of people you don’t like.
The quest for political conformity is trickling down to lower levels of education, with a Portland school district banishing from its curriculum any books that express the slightest hint of doubt or uncertainty about global warming.
It’s not just that Portland banished from its schools any active denial of catastrophic man-made global warming. It’s that they banished any language that implies the smallest amount of doubt. Bill Bigelow, a former teacher who works for the activist group that pushed this resolution, explained its rationale in testimony to the school board:
"Bigelow said PPS’ science textbooks are littered with words like 'might,' 'may,' and 'could' when talking about climate change. '"Carbon dioxide emissions from motor vehicles, power plants and other sources, may contribute to global warming,"' he quotes Physical Science published by Pearson as saying. 'This is a section that could be written by the Exxon public relations group and it’s being taught in Portland schools.'"
It reminds me of the old dictum attributed to Lenin, that first you target the counter-revolutionaries, then you target the insufficiently enthusiastic. This is no longer about suppressing us global warming “deniers.” It’s about erecting the global warming catechism as a dogma that cannot be given anything short of enthusiastic consent. You have to embrace it the way you love Big Brother.
As I observed when Bill Nye proposed jailing global warming skeptics, the left used to make a lot of noise about how we should "question authority," but now "authority is their entire agenda, in politics, in economics, in culture, in religion, in science."
They have even abandoned their old pose as protectors of oppressed minorities.
From the Charlie Hebdo massacre to Orlando, it’s as if the Islamists have been ticking down a list of traditional liberal client groups—artists, Jews, women, gays—and attacking them, only to be met with the left’s stubborn denial and indifference.
Add to that list another old liberal constituency group: journalists. Consider the Silicon Valley journalist who was hounded into a humiliating apology on Twitter for the crime of attempting to assert our common humanity in response to a tragedy.
To insist on the old liberal creed that we're all brothers under the skin and everyone is equal, that identity politics doesn't outweigh our common humanity, now takes an act of moral courage. And moral courage has been banned.
The medium of that controversy, Twitter, brings us to the distinctive new development of 2016. Every year of the new Culture War brings something a little different, and this is the year when the left decided it is time to rein in the technology that was supposed to make possible a new world of free-wheeling free expression. This was the year they set out to control the new centers of political debate on the Internet: social media services like Twitter and Facebook.
Early in the year, Twitter announced an Orwellian "Trust and Safety Council" stacked with leftist activists and given the power to ban users for whatever reason they like.
[B]eing insulted online by random strangers is not everyone’s idea of a good time. But that’s the problem the Internet was supposed to solve by allowing us to block or mute obnoxious users or filter certain kinds of content out of our feeds. It’s supposed to give us the tools we need to control and limit or own experience, without the need for an online nanny to do it for us.
Ah, but there’s the rub, because there are always those who want to do it for us, those who miss the old centralized ways of filtering the transmission of information, because it could give a lot of power to small but committed pressure groups.
Similarly, we found out that Facebook was employing a crew of left-leaning Ivy League college graduates to bias its news feeds.
[A]s with Twitter, our social media giants are squandering the promise of the new Internet media. Everything that was supposed to be a revolutionary improvement about the media in the new era of the Internet—no gatekeepers, no filters, power to the people!—is being dismantled.
This is part of a wider attempt to impose ideological conformity on Silicon Valley, including an attempt to get Oculus co-founder Palmer Luckey fired by Facebook because he funded a group opposed to Hillary Clinton.
What I find particularly interesting is the way these activists are trying to use big corporations as their mechanisms for enforcing political uniformity. The logical conclusion, when you think about it, is that every company should have a Chief Political Officer in charge of monitoring the ideological deviations of its employees.
Which is to say that some people want Silicon Valley to emulate the enormously successful creative culture of the Soviet Union.
Fortunately, in that case and in response to demands to remove Trump supporter Peter Thiel from Facebook's board, Mark Zuckerberg resisted.
Zuckerberg is absolutely right that people can back the Republican nominee for different reasons, including totally normal ideological disagreements on issues like taxes, the size of government, and religious freedom. He’s even more right that the real test of tolerance is “standing up for the rights of people with different viewpoints” from your own. And he’s dead-on in skewering the Silicon Valley left’s hypocrisy on this issue: “We can’t create a culture that says it cares about diversity and then excludes almost half the country because they back a political candidate.”
Zuckerberg is a political “liberal” who backs Hillary Clinton. But occasionally American liberals remember that they are supposed to be liberal, i.e., pro-freedom.
So no wonder Zuckerberg and Facebook had to be brought to heel. This is the background for the attempt to frame Facebook for tipping the election and shake it down for money and for control over the new digital media.
If only someone would come along and spell it all out for us. And here is Jeff Nesbitt at Time Magazine, as antiquated a media dinosaur as you can think of, to reveal the end game. “Fake news,” he thunders, is “an existential threat to Facebook’s reputation.” The only solution: “partner with legacy media to curate real news and reward them for it.” In other words: give us back the power and money we lost. Make us the gatekeepers and toll collectors again.
Some on the left have made vague attempts to defend old-fashioned liberalism, but the efforts are only half-hearted. When President Obama briefly spoke out against Political Correctness on campuses, I noted the contradiction between his "support for tolerance in theory and his intolerance of dissidents in practice." Which indicates the contradiction that destroyed liberalism.
Liberal is as liberal does. The left used to like the idea of being for “freedom,” but as a purely intellectual, theoretical phenomenon. Debate ideas all you like, just don’t dare act on your ideas. But of course people can’t help acting on their ideas, if only subconsciously, and bad ideas might lead to bad actions, and that cannot be allowed. So we’d better suppress the bad ideas just to make sure. In the soul of the American left, the lust for control always struggled with pieties about tolerance, and the lust for control is winning out.
During a badly staged "sit-in" at the House of Representatives to demand gun control laws that had already been repeatedly rejected by voters, I noted how completely Democrats have reversed the liberals' "civil rights" legacy.
The point of Selma was to restore civil rights that had been arbitrarily taken away from an oppressed minority. The purpose of this movement is to arbitrarily deprive people of their civil rights. That’s the upshot of the bill to block people on a terrorist watch list from being able to buy guns. The problem is that anyone can be put on the watch list without “due process,” that is, without any objective legal process. But Democrats now view due process as their chief obstacle.
So they are stealing the symbolism of the civil rights movement to use it for the cause of depriving people of civil rights.
And of course these are the same people who still insist on glorifying leftist dictators.
The old "liberalism" is dead, but the cause of freedom is as important as ever. This is why I made the case for "an American right-of-center Liberal Party."
But wait, I hear you shout, the “liberals” in American politics are the left! Yes, and that has been one of the great historical mistakes we need to correct. There’s nothing “liberal” about today’s left.
That’s becoming increasingly obvious now that the left is openly the faction of illiberalism, in favor of cracking down on personal freedom and autonomy in every area of life....
The point is to seize control of a name the left has begun to abandon—they prefer to call themselves “progressives” now, despite being conspicuously opposed to most forms of economic and technological progress—and to steal an agenda they have turned against.
I suggested this out of fear that Donald Trump will wreck the Republican Party by associating it with truly illiberal causes like the nationalist "alt-right." That's another one of the stories we'll be counting down this week, and how it turns out in the long run will be one of the top stories for at least the next four years.
Whatever the circumstances, it is clear that the cause of freedom—which is, after all, the genuine root meaning of the word "liberal"—needs a larger, stronger, and more vigorous defense.
The left's supposed liberalism is dead—but in this original sense, we should say: long live liberalism.