The “Successor” to Liberalism

The “Successor” to Liberalism July 12, 2021

Conservatives complain about liberalism.  But so do a dominant faction of progressives.  In fact, they consider liberalism to be racist.

These progressives have gone so far left that they have left “liberalism” far behind.  This new political orientation consists of a radical commitment not only to critical race theory but also to critical theory as it applies to sex and gender, amounting to an uncompromising assault on“cis-heteronormative patriarchal white supremacy.”  This way of thinking and governing is being called “successor ideology.”  This is because it is self-consciously a “successor” to liberalism.

So says Andrew Sullivan in a must-read essay entitled  What Happened To You?:  The radicalization of the American elite against liberalism.

This is no conservative rant.  Sullivan is a gay Catholic, a big Obama supporter, resolutely anti-Trump. But he has been a strong  critic of political correctness and “woke” ideology.  He is, in short, a traditional liberal.  But he is concerned about this new anti-liberalism from the left.

He quotes another liberal, Wesley Yang–an activist on behalf of Asian Americans–who has noted how we have gone from “‘Oh, we’re menaced by racism and sexism’” to “‘Oh, we are now menaced by whiteness and masculinity.’”  The former liberal concern could be addressed by changes in attitude and behavior.  The latter concern sees the evils as being essential and innate, residing in an entire race and an entire sex.  Yang is the one who coined the term  “successor ideology.

Here is some of what Sullivan says about it:

In the successor ideology, there is no escape, no refuge, from the ongoing nightmare of oppression and violence — and you are either fighting this and “on the right side of history,” or you are against it and abetting evil. There is no neutrality. No space for skepticism. No room for debate. No space even for staying silent. (Silence, remember, is violence — perhaps the most profoundly anti-liberal slogan ever invented.)

And that tells you about the will to power behind it. Liberalism leaves you alone. The successor ideology will never let go of you. Liberalism is only concerned with your actions. The successor ideology is concerned with your mind, your psyche, and the deepest recesses of your soul. Liberalism will let you do your job, and let you keep your politics private. S.I. will force you into a struggle session as a condition for employment.

Successor ideology considers liberalism to be racist because liberal policies from liberal politicians–including Barack Obama–have not stamped out white supremacy.  Indeed, it can’t, because it allows for too much freedom for white people in power.

Consider liberal values:  Democracy?  Racist, for allowing a majority to oppress minority groups.  Equality?  Racist, for emphasizing equal opportunity instead of equity, an equality of results.  Freedom of speech?  Racist, since it allows for hate-speech.  Sullivan gives a catalog of liberal principles that the new ideology opposes:

Due process? If you’re a male on campus, gone. Privacy? Stripped away — by anonymous rape accusations, exposure of private emails, violence against people’s private homes, screaming at folks in restaurants, sordid exposés of sexual encounters, eagerly published by woke mags. Non-violence? Exceptions are available if you want to “punch a fascist.” Free speech? Only if you don’t mind being fired and ostracized as a righteous consequence. Free association? You’ve got to be kidding. Religious freedom? Illegitimate bigotry. Equality? Only group equity counts now, and individuals of the wrong identity can and must be discriminated against. Color-blindness? Another word for racism. Mercy? Not for oppressors. Intent? Irrelevant. Objectivity? A racist lie. Science? A manifestation of white supremacy. Biological sex? Replaced by socially constructed gender so that women have penises and men have periods. The rule of law? Not for migrants or looters. Borders? Racist. Viewpoint diversity? A form of violence against the oppressed.

I would add that traditional liberalism has always championed the working class, supporting labor unions and promoting workers’ economic interests.  For successor ideologues, the working class is just a bunch of racist Trump supporters.  Which allows affluent members of the middle and upper classes–including owners and managers of the big corporations–to be progressive in this new, post-liberal way.

Ironically, despite the racial rhetoric, the successor ideology is mostly the province of white elites, with many black Americans–especially those in the working class–as well as Hispanics, Asians, and immigrant groups thinking this goes way too far, preferring traditional liberalism or, sometimes, conservatism.

But lots of former liberals are surging into this “successor” ideology.  And Sullivan worries that, among other things, this radicalism will discredit progressivism among the general public and will provoke a reaction that will put conservatives into power.

Maybe conservatives and liberals could ally with each other–temporarily, to be sure–to defend liberal democracy against those who oppose it.


Illustration by Юкатан, CC BY-SA 3.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

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