Clearing the Fog
in the
War of Words


  logomachy--1. A dispute about words. 2. A dispute carried on in words only; a battle of words.
logomachon--1. One who argues about words. 2. A word warrior.



"Endless Party": The internal contradictions of liberalism

After one of the most ideological campaigns in memory, the Democrat current wisdom is somehow congealing into “the party had no message”. William Voegeli analyzes the party’s electoral problems in the Claremont Review of Books and concludes that the Democrats’ stumbling block is the empty core of liberalism (hat tip to Powerline).

That emptiness has long been a target of conservatives. Curiously, liberalism’s emptiness is indicated by its inability to specify goals. Bill Buckley once made a complaint to the effect that liberals talk about the “Great Society” but can’t tell you how you’ll know when you’ve got there. The result is what Voegeli calls “The Endless Party”. Voegeli shows how since the New Deal the liberal program has had no goal other than “progress” and the expansion of government in its pursuit:
. . . most people would consider securing "abundance and liberty for all," ending poverty and achieving racial justice, a pretty good day's work. For LBJ it was, astoundingly, "just the beginning."
There was a further problem. Even New Deal liberals recognized that Americans might at some point consider they had done “a pretty good day’s work” and get too comfortable with all the progress they had made. But liberals are stopped from prescribing a cure for this “spiritual unemployment” by their conviction—following John Stuart Mill—that there is no prescription for the good life. The best they could do was say “that we should
all live however we want, constrained only by the need to choose a “lifestyle” that does not interfere with anyone else's living the way he wants to live
“But they have never been content to leave it at that”, Voegeli points out with relish.
The social critic inside every liberal cannot resist berating other people's unsatisfactory lifestyles . . . . Fifty years ago this scorn was directed at suburban split-levels. Today the target is evangelical churches. Meanwhile, the social worker inside every liberal cannot resist treating these unfortunate lifestyle choices as problems to be solved.
Liberals’ relativism combined with their constant carping about non-liberals’ failure to measure up to a shifting standard of perfection reveals the emptiness at liberalism’s core, as it balloons with no limit on either direction or range. As a political philosophy, it is a prescription for tyranny.

If the Democrats think the “big question” is “What do the Democrats stand for?”, Voegeli says, then there is a “better and bigger question still: What do the Democrats stand against?”

Voegeli leaves it at that. I think the answer is that not having an answer is an unalienable part of liberalism. As Voegeli describes, liberals have no concept of the Good other than constant “progress” that leads to ever more “progress”. This scrawny ethic is typified by Bill Clinton’s frequent inanity “that character is ‘a journey, not a destination’", never mind that
to leave home without a destination, convinced that the very idea of a destination is arbitrary and false, is to embark on a "journey" that will be no different from just wandering around.
Yet liberals, like all of us, want to feel justified, and consequently they prove their virtue by living the only good life they know: being committed to “progressive” causes. Unprogressive things, preeminently Republicans, as they imagine Republicans to be, are about the only things liberals can be against. Liberals' virtue lies in their liberalism; to put limits on that would make them little better than Republicans.

Hence liberals’ repeated assertions that the Republican political ascendancy means not just a slowing of movement “forward”, but the ineluctable onset of the mean-spirited dystopia described recently by Garrison Keillor:
In the new privatized low-tax minimal-services society the Republicans are striving to lay on us, public transportation will offer no pleasure whatsoever. The bus will be for losers and dopes . . . full of angry and sullen people who have lost hope that their kids can rise in the world and have a better life, which is the hope that makes it possible for me to turn to you and say something about the weather []]. . .

In Republican America, you will not enjoy public life, period. The public library . . . will become a waiting room for desperate and broken people, the alkies, the whacked-out, the unemployables . . . the public schools will become holding tanks for children whose parents were too unresourceful to find good schools for them . . . politics will be so ugly and rancid that decent people will avoid expressing an opinion for fear of being screeched at and hectored and spat on.
[Homegrown Democrat more…]
Now,that’s something any Democrat can be against.



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