The Fatal Flaw of Liberalism

Since the end of the year, I have kept in fairly close contact with two of my former students, both of whom were in one of my classes last fall. I consider them both outstanding young men, intelligent, perceptive, and thoughtful—and increasingly good friends. They don’t always agree with me, but they are thinking, and that’s what I constantly told my students to do—“think for yourself.” Not many people can do that, but these two fellows can.

I received an email from one of them yesterday and responded last night, and in the course of my email to him, I wrote something that I thought was pretty brilliant. I don’t do that very often, so when I do, I want to share it with my readers. Here’s what I wrote to him:

“How many times did I say in class ‘think for yourself!’ You are capable of doing it; not many people are. But I've discovered, in my attempt to ‘think for myself,’ that a lot of what was thought of before by the ancients is awfully wise. I'm not so smart that I'm smarter than 1,000s of years of historical wisdom. That's one of the major, major flaws of liberalism. Think for yourself, but don't open your mind so wide that your brain falls out.”

The “fatal flaw of liberalism” is what I’d like to discuss in this article.

My biggest complaint with “liberalism” as a philosophy is that the only absolute it recognizes is that there are no absolutes. Modern, leftist liberalism is rooted in naturalistic theory, which holds that everything is in flux, everything is changing, nothing is fixed, final, permanent, absolute. Now, not everybody who claims to be “liberal” believes that; some people envision “liberalism” as a set of political, moral, and economic views, some of which they agree with, and some of which they don’t. Some people—and one of my buddies mentioned above castigated me for this—don’t even think we should use the labels “liberal” and “conservative.” And perhaps he’s right, as long as clear definitions of the two philosophies are not widely understood by the American people. But, philosophically, there is a doctrine called “liberalism,” and what I described at the beginning of this paragraph is a fundamental, cardinal feature of the secular, intellectual liberalism that dominates academia and the media today. This can be proven historically, showing exactly the roots of all this, giving names, dates, and places. Perhaps I should take the time to do that on this blog at some point, but it would take several articles.

Now, I personally do not believe in “liberalism” as a philosophy, because, as I wrote to my former student last night, there is a lot of wisdom among the ancients that would benefit us greatly if we would only pay attention to it. Liberalism is willing to accept that—but only selectively, and only if the “wisdom” it selects fits the moment. The prudence of the ages is there to be received or rejected wholly on the basis of modern, pragmatic notions of what liberal human reason believes is right. In other words, liberalism judges the ancients—and God—by its reason; it doesn’t believe that it’s possible that somebody else, or some other Being, might have some concept which should be honored and cherished, universally, for all times, peoples, nations, and cultures. That simply does not exist to modern liberalism. And the consistent “liberal” wants to decide what is to be accepted and what is to be discarded, and usually enforce that upon others via governmental diktat.

There is nothing wrong with “change,” indeed, at times it is necessary. But as Edmund Burke argued, any societal change should be rooted in the past, should consider carefully the structures and mores upon which the society has been built, and consider that change only in the light of what has gone before, of what history tells us is prudent and judicious. To simply divorce ourselves from the past because we believe ourselves superior to those who have gone before is…a fatal flaw of liberalism.

Or, perhaps I should put it this way. We need politicians today who stand up and speak of the imperative of returning our country to the values and traditions of the past that have proven down through the ages to be successful and wise. We need politicians who talk about virtue, righteousness, faithfulness, integrity, hard work, pure morality, God and family, trust, respect, reverence for the great minds and ideas upon which great societies have been built. We need men and woman to lift this country out of the moral gutter to which Hollywood and ethical subjectivism have led it. If Barak Obama wants to change this country, that’s fine. But let him do it by conserving the firm foundations of the past upon which success is built, and indeed, without which no society can exist for long. Let him do it by revering what has gone before, by admiring the wisdom of the ages, by exalting timeless truths which have supported mankind since the creation—and how about telling us about it, Mr. Obama? When modern man attempts to pass judgment upon God and history through no other means than his own unaided human reason…is it any surprise that a society swirls down into a bottomless pit of hedonism, filth, and self-absorption? Until we get leaders who lead us on the basis of a humble admiration of the tremendous minds and ideas that have preceded us, we will have no leaders at all. We must build upon the past, not tear it down. But to build upon it, we have to know it. It is imperative that we have the wisdom to discern between right and wrong, good and evil, progressive and digressive, what has worked and what hasn’t—and to know that those things are not matters of subjective opinion and human reason, they are matters of objective, historical, and—dare I say?—theological truth.

But such things will never be accepted by a liberal intelligentsia which thinks it is smarter than a God it doesn't even believe exists.

What I told my friend and former student last night was correct. People need to think for themselves and too many only listen, and believe, what somebody else tells them. But part of “thinking for oneself” is to realize that there have been a lot of people in the past who have thought for themselves, too. And they’ve produced some pretty good ideas that we would be wise to acknowledge. “Thinking for yourself” doesn’t mean you reject everything else and produce your own individualistic, self-centered world philosophy. Thinking for yourself means having the wisdom, the courage, the self-discipline, and the humility to recognize that there are others who have gone before who, through trial and error, successes and mistakes, accomplishments and failures, patience and perseverance, can teach us much that we need to learn. They can teach us truths that are practical, not because they just happen to work at the moment and can be discarded when we don’t like them any more. But truths that are practical because they are timeless and eternal, they are grounded in, and flow from, the God Who made heaven and earth. They are right, they always will be right, they always will be right everywhere, and they need to be conserved, not doubted and trashed. And any “progressive” “change” any politician proposes ought to lead us back to those timeless truths, not away from them.

When was the last time you heard a politician—“liberal” or “conservative”—use the word “righteousness,” and call our country back to that standard? Well, given liberalism…there really is no such thing as "righteousness." Or, if there is, it can always be changed and redefined tomorrow. That is the fatal flaw of liberalism.