On the Dangers of Liberal Society, part II

On the Dangers of Liberal Society, part II June 17, 2009

In my first post in this series I argued that freedom or liberty—or whatever you would like to call the thing that I think we can all agree that we find in what is generally called “liberal society”—is not good on its own. In fact, it seems quite plausible that freedom can serve as an intoxicating sedative for human flourishing. I hate to use the rather stale analogy of boiling a frog to death by slowly raising the temperature until he is poached, but I think that it applies here. To be clear, my point was this: Liberty need not be benevolent.

But this is not a surprising thing to say. What may strike us as a surprise is the implication that such an idea may have in the context of political authority. Could it be that, while fascism is never a moral thing to desire for its own sake, it offers us a unique opportunity to exist in the sober reality of the world as it is? In other words, I would contend that, while one need not make an outright case for fascism and offend those who in their own life have suffered at the hands of fascists, one can explore what is it about living in the midst of salient injustice and poignant illiberality that might cause the human person to flourish in a distinctly different way than the person who lives in apparent freedom.

This is the issue I would like to raise and while it may seem flamboyent or controversial, I actually think it is a rather normative thing to ponder. I mean, we rarely see movies that glory at the abilities of the human spirit to thrive in the midst of plenty. No, instead we like to see underdogs, slumdogs, and other caninesque things in our drama.

Now, this may seem overly simplistic, but, I wonder: Could it be that these cases are not extraordinary feats, but, instead, natural things that are proper to such dire conditions? What I mean to say is that instead of thinking about the heroism of the person who can rise out of oppression, what would it look like to think about that same event as something that the non-oppressed cannot do?

This reversal leaves the liberal societies and their (our) comforts behind as crutches that keep us from encountering the brute force of life and death, pain and suffering, and, of course, love. It turns an ironically tragic, but beautiful, light on the very places we long to escape from.

Politcally speaking, this would be fascism. What does it mean to long for this to happen? What does it mean to long for an end of liberalism and its desentitizing sense of freedom that traps our ability to live and, perhaps, to love at the height of our powers?

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