The self-styled intellectual class is growing excitable. Under the onslaught of Trump, Brexit, Europe-wide populism, and Jordan Peterson, can we be certain, they ask, that the “open society” will continue? The only way on from liberalism, they believe, is backward into the darkness whence we allegedly emerged. Even those who are not enthusiastic about liberalism’s tender mercies are required to moderate their hopes for its demise, lest the new nurse turn out to be worse than the serving one. A lot of people, including people who call themselves conservatives, appear to be concerned about the future of liberalism, and this concern is causing the age to be misread.
For the discussion is bogus to begin with. What is called liberalism here is not liberalism at all, but its direct opposite. It is liberalism only in name, and therefore offers no guarantee of an “open society” at all. By corrupting the meanings of terms like “equality,” “tolerance,” and “human rights,” the “liberal” ascendancy of the past three decades has overburdened the skeleton of our civilization, leaving it weakened and susceptible to collapse.
We should stop using words like “liberalism” as though they were not already subsumed in irony, as though the sense of virtue and good intention that they are supposed to connote remained valid. I believe it has become necessary to prefix certain words in our political lexicon to alert bystanders to their hidden corruption. For three decades I have referred to “pseudo-liberalism.” What we call liberalism is no longer to be thought upright. If it dies, it will be a cause of celebration, not dismay.
This pseudo-liberalism is founded on a lie: the idea that freedom resides in getting whatever you demand and doing whatever you desire. In the words of the diabolical occultist Aleister Crowley: “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.” A moment’s thought reveals such ideas as civilization-threatening. By definition, what one person demands must be taken from someplace where it already benefits others, and doing exactly what you want will invariably be a cost to someone else or, ultimately—because of the complexity of the human instrument—to yourself. There are libraries of philosophy and theology on these topics, but as far as contemporary conversations are concerned, it is as though not a word of this is relevant.
The Sixties generation, which introduced these incoherencies into the bloodstream of modern societies, has not been honest about its own experience of these much-vaunted freedoms, which have left a trail of devastation behind them. One symptom of this is that there is virtually no lucid witness to the errors of pseudo-liberalism, not just in the intimate areas of human relations, but in relation to economics and the movements of people in the modern world. For half a century, these converging strands of insipid thinking have dominated Western societies, steamrolling everything and everyone with the help of corporate money and devious propaganda, their incoherencies protected from scrutiny by the influence and dollars of Big This and Big That, by corrupted media and the force field of political correctness. Self-styled liberals have hijacked the idealism of the young, enlisting them for a project that has the outward appearance of virtue but is rotten to the core. They have convinced even our own children that globalism is an unequivocal good and that human safety and well-being can be maintained without the assistance of the civilization that made all these qualities possible in the first place.
Thus, pseudo-liberalism seeks to turn upside-down the value system of the civilization that once was Christendom, attacking its core institutions and mocking and censoring its history. It justifies genocide in the form of abortion and is clearly intent—sometimes unwittingly—upon engineering the cultural and moral demolition of the West itself, by dint of godless relativism, induced migration, the elimination of distinct nations, and the destruction of the nuclear family.
And although this is quite clearly the most intolerant ideology to have emerged in the West since World War II, signs of the demise of this “liberalism” are met with handwringing from people who ought to know better. All “right-thinking” people must agree that “populism” is a bad thing. We must, while admitting its minor blemishes, still accept that what is called liberalism offers the “one best way forward” for Western societies.
Liberal-progressivism—to give it its most informative name—is actually an advanced form of colonialism, imposing itself not just on territories but also claiming dominion over all future time, brooking no dissent and remorselessly punishing recalcitrant doubters. In this sense it is deeply totalitarian, insisting on “one best way” that cannot be questioned.
In his 1987 essay Stories and Totalitarianism, Václav Havel defined the mechanism of totalitarianism as the “assassination of history” to achieve both “nihilisation of the past” and mastery over the future. The instrument of this process he identified as the removal from history of the possibilities of human choice, mystery, and autonomy: History becomes a fixed sequence of unfolding inevitabilities, and the role of human beings is merely to acquiesce and embrace what is pressed upon them.
To put this another way, under the new colonialism the future is a city already constructed, waiting to be moved into. There is no space for human discussion or disagreement. It is already decided—and not, we are archly informed, by some arbitrary human authority but by the mechanistic mind of time, which ordains the course of history according to immutable and unchallengeable laws.
We are now, it is certain, seeing the early stages of the disintegration of this pseudo-liberalism. This liberalism has promised untrammeled economic growth, itself an example of its incoherence: Increasing growth never delivers increasing happiness. Moreover, in ignoring the inevitability of boom-bust, this promise provides an example of pseudo-liberal dishonesty. There is no final glorious destination.
This pseudo-liberalism also promises free speech, while curtailing it in the name of civility—employing sophisticated abuses of language to impose censorship so as to protect its own incoherence, and arrogating to itself the right to stifle anything that offers a significant threat to itself. It also promises increasingly purer forms of democracy but in reality is pushing us ever closer to mob rule.
Pseudo-liberalism lays claim to the universalization of human rights, but it requires just a moment’s reflection to realize that what is meant by this is not universal in the least, but a highly ideological recalibration of the balance of power between “establishments” and “minorities,” which provide human shields for the prosecution of an undeclared war on what is.
Moreover, it is precisely the pseudo-liberal insistence on a selective understanding of human rights that lies at the heart of the current threat to Europe’s future. For if “universal” rights are to trump rights of culture, history, place, locality, home and hearth, the outcome will be the destruction of all culture, loyalty, and trust, creating an intercontinental incontinence that will sweep all order and coherence before it.
What is called liberalism attacks what is most precious in our tradition of community solidarity, opposing those values we have held dearest—love of God, nation, and family—in favor of an empty and faithless materialism and the pseudo-laws of the new ideologies. The flaws of this pseudo-liberalism amount to an indictment that far outweighs even the sum of the promised benefits, for it amounts, in truth, to the negation of democracy, free speech, and meaningful liberty.
It is true that there are actors waiting in the wings who represent something even more illiberal than the present dispensation. But we should not cling to a nurse for fear of something worse. Perhaps somewhere about the precincts of this paradox lies the explanation of why “liberals” have so far supported the influx of Muslims into Europe: This is part of the “liberal” program of disintegrating the culture, traditions, and civilization of the West. Often one is forced to wonder if “liberals” know anything about the nature of Islam and its ambitions, whether they are aware that the Islamic concept of the “infidel” disqualifies all such peoples from what they think their entitlements. No sane person could ever have accused these pseudo-liberals of being far-sighted. Still, here they have surely surpassed themselves with their willful myopia and stupidity. If they wish to imagine how it will end, I recommend they have a quiet read of Michel Houellebecq’s Submission, which tells of the capitulation of a future French establishment to the blandishments of Islam.
But the problem does not lie merely with pseudo-liberalism. Paradoxically, a dangerous tendency of thought has arisen in late times among conservatives: the idea that any flaws of liberalism—such as, one presumes, its blind utopian globalism and politically correct excesses—pale compared to the barbarism to be observed elsewhere in the world. They take this to mean that we should not raise a fuss about what is happening in the West, but rather express gratitude for the “openness” we enjoy and the “tolerance” liberals extend to their opponents. This, too, is bogus. “Tolerance” here, like “equality,” means something different than it used to. Once, tolerance meant not interfering with, or attempting to suppress, beliefs that contradicted one’s own, but this response has given way to a dictatorship of intolerance wherein everything is tolerated except the views of those who do not subscribe to the tenets of pseudo-liberalism.
“Liberals” speak of what they call “the liberal order” as though its virtues were self-evident. This allows them to adopt a tone of moral sanctimony. Those who disagree, therefore, must ipso facto suffer from some kind of pathological perverseness: They oppose the good out of fear, vexatiousness, or worse. But the pseudo-liberal sense of the good is selective and self-serving, and has no good plans for those who dissent from it. We have seen this, again and again, and what we have seen—at the hands of social justice warriors, LGBT activists, #MeTooers, and the like—provides evidence of what the liberal end of history would actually look like.
So let us not be frightened into shoring up that which is finally disintegrating. Pseudo-liberalism is finally disintegrating under belated retaliation from those it treats with contempt, as well as the weight of its own senselessness. The liberal state of affairs is a bit like the current state of rock ‘n’ roll: Though on its last legs, no one can imagine what, if anything, comes next. This for a time appeared to be the strongest card of the self-proclaimed liberals: that they did indeed represent the end of history. Now, what is (often pejoratively) called “populism” has arisen to put paid to that idea.
This “populism” may represent the future, in one form or another, or simply the precursor to something we are not yet able to imagine. But whatever it is, it seems our only hope. The choice we face is not between “left” and “right,” or—still less—“liberal” and “far right.” Certainly, the choice is not between a continuation of the present pseudo-liberalism or a descent into Islamism—the first will inevitably give way to the second. Rather, the choice is between civilization and its antithesis. It could hardly be more serious. The time has come to let the delusions of the Sixties finally die in their dilapidated beds.
John Waters is an Irish writer and commentator, the author of ten books, and a playwright.