(LifeSiteNews) — As BlackRock announces the end to the forty-year period of prosperity known as the Great Moderation, it is timely to assess what else we might be compelled to call the new normal. We have said goodbye to the presumption of rising living standards and stability which typified this now bygone era. How have our other expectations fared?
With every new war there is a repeated invocation of “Our values.” We inhabit, we are told, a “rules-based order” which uniquely qualifies we in the West as having a morally superior political culture. These wars are prosecuted in the name of democracy and freedom. Given their repeated invocation, and hallowed status in the grandstanding speeches of our management, it is worth seeing what survives in the West of liberal democracy.
Liberalism has many forms. The one which should concern us here describes the values of the West from the fall of the Soviet Union to today. This liberalism is the belief in individual rights and the supremacy of the electoral system, allied with access to cheap and plentiful consumer goods. It is a position perhaps best summarized by the often misunderstood Francis Fukuyama, whose position in his noted essay The End of History may be simplified to the idea that the West is best because of democracy plus VCRs.
Yet liberalism means more than just election cycles and electronic toys. The form we have enjoyed since 1991 has been one which drew heavily from the ideas developed in its previous incarnations. In the 1960s Sir Isaiah Berlin gave perhaps the best account of liberalism versus the alternatives, saying its chief virtue was pluralism. This is the idea that within liberal democracies different and even opposing points of view can be entertained in open debate. The political culture not only allows but thrives on disagreement. In his celebration of the efficacy and liberty of liberalism, being a fine method of arriving at answers through open questions, he is describing a world which no longer exists.
Our current ideology is tending to a single dimension of permitted opinion with which we are free to agree or suffer the consequences. The very definition of “woman,” if attempted in a public setting, carries a career-ending risk. No further argument is necessary to supply if such a basic definition uttered aloud can attract serious penalties for the speaker. Liberal democracy is no longer pluralist.
Aside from mentioning ideas which were normal in the 1990s, there are several other serious issues with the liberal idea in current practice. John Stuart Mill, the 19th century author of the seminal liberal classic On Liberty warned that the danger of tyranny must be considered by a liberal society. Along with the tyranny of the State he underlined the perils of the “tyranny of the majority,” wherewith minorities are oppressed by the custom, tastes or disdain of a prevailing majority view in civil society.
He defended eccentrics for this reason, seeing in the deviance from public norms of opinion a valuable counterbalance to the fashionable or even feverish moods of the majority. He was concerned with the preservation of the freedom of conscience, of thought, of expression, and of the liberty to live your life as you saw fit without interference or intimidation. Can anyone contend that these liberties have survived lockdowns?
The moods of the majority today are arguably more the property of mass media than the product of personal discernment. The state therefore has a hand, as the Twitter Files have amply shown, in deciding precisely which opinions are deemed acceptable and which not. This has fueled a polarization in global society, exemplified in the worldwide hatred of the unvaccinated as demonstrated in a recent paper in Nature.
This move was undertaken to shape opinion to the ends of power. It resulted in a combination of both of Mill’s tyrannies, of state and public oppression of a minority that was designated as an ignorant, homicidal and selfish target. As with all attempts at dehumanizing an enemy, such a tactic betrays the injustice of the measure itself.
Where enemies exist, there is no need for hatred, even if it is necessary to kill them (as in war). Our democracy is not liberal because its population are manipulated by mass media into patterns of behavior designed to marginalize people whose opinions are inconvenient to the aims of the management.
Not all minorities are equal in this regard. As Patrick Deneen argued in Why Liberalism Failed, the advancing individual extremism in our culture has necessitated ever more authoritarian state intervention to guarantee the rights of preferred groups.
The agendas of identity groups have successfully leveraged a sympathetic mass media to exact privileges from governments which places them in a legally protected category. It is unavoidable to conclude that the majority of people enjoy neither the deference, preferment or protection afforded by identitarian laws, which amount to a disproportionate influence on the majority by small if well organized factions.
Our democracy is not liberal because in its efforts to preserve the extremes of liberty it makes laws which impinge on the liberty of those outside these categories. This is a perfect inversion of Mill’s second type of tyranny, in which the minority, and not the majority, dictates the terms of behavior and debate.
There is more to be said of the end of liberalism, the third religion of Man. Yet this is enough to show its description no longer matches the system of ideas and laws we inhabit.
Democracy has fared no better. The legitimacy of elected governments lies in the concept of presumed consent. Consent is given at the ballot box, the winner taking power and acting in the name of the electorate. It is presumed that both the people who voted for, and against, the winners, consent to their ruling the state thereafter. The duration of this consent is unclear.
There is no other basis for the legitimacy of democratic governments. Can this consent be presumed? It is a difficult question to answer, and is usually obviated by mention of the alternatives being worse. I would say that the concept is not our concern here. What should interest us is the means by which this consent is manufactured in a mass media society.
Governments in the West have openly sought to manage their populations through the kind of methods invented by the father of propaganda Edward Bernays. He invented the euphemism “public relations” for a method which was attractive to Western power as it was an effective replacement for the use of overt force in managing populations.
It is impossible to argue that state and corporate influence in mass media has no discernible effect on election outcomes. How possible is it to defend the democratic idea, when it relies on the informed consent of the voter for its mechanism of legitimacy?
As our managers loudly intone the virtues of our values, these values are receding from our lives in practice. They are, like so many institutions, mere vestiges – a cherished if lingering image of a beloved past. We inhabit a pseudo-Soviet world, with untouchable bureaucrats free to provoke disaster without consequence, but where a word can mean ruin for the ordinary person. Science has become inflected with this post-liberal ideology, and at times resembles the Lysenkoism of the “Socialist Science” under Stalin. There is no part of life that is free from this contagion.
The labels we have for our reality do not match our experience. This is a simple fact, and a basic observation about reality. Such things are dangerous to mention these days. Yet facing the facts is the best means of finding a better way forward than one provided by the slogans of a world that has vanished. To call our politics “liberal democracy” is to deadname them. They have transitioned into a parody of themselves, leaving an ideology whose reality betrays its appearance.