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March 4, 2017 / Congau

Contradictory Liberalism

Liberalism is the ideology that holds that everybody must be allowed to have their own ideology as long as they allow everybody else to have theirs. In other words, liberalism allows everything as long as it is liberalism.

Complete liberalism is therefore logically impossible and what we see in the liberal democracies is a watered down version of it. Disagreement is certainly allowed, but it has to be within the safe frames of the system. As the liberal democracies matured in the twentieth century, they were able to shake off their illiberal adversaries. The extreme left and right slid into insignificance and the mainstream gravitated toward the middle. Thus Western society became more liberal, but inasmuch as real alternatives were excluded, it became less liberal.

The unhappy thing about the different political ideologies is that they view their ideal society as a totality that necessarily excludes everything that doesn’t fit inside. If the communist state were to be realized, capitalism could not be admitted in its midst and the government structures would be incompatible with the constitutions of Western democracies. Ideologies that require another structure have therefore become increasingly unrealistic and have been squeezed out. This has been an ongoing process that didn’t stop after the more extreme ideologies had become irrelevant; the new fringes continued to be shaved off. Liberalism, the ideology of free political competition, won by eliminating competition.

That is until the new populist movements emerged. They actually offer an alternative and thereby more competition, so we might think that they have enhanced liberalism. But of course they haven’t for they are driven by intolerance and their expressed wish is to shake up the establishment and the liberal protection structures.

The liberal establishment may deliberate on how to respond to that threat and the opposite alternatives are equally unpalatable: The populist movements could be banned, but that would mean an end to liberal democracy or they could be allowed to continue and crush liberal democracy. The only possibility is half-measures between restriction and tolerance, but that means allowing liberalism to be attacked from two different ends. But so what? Liberalism is contradictory anyway.

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