Saturday, November 14, 2015

The End of Liberalism

At The Guardian, Nick Cohen writes:
Maybe we will be lucky again. Maybe the Parisian attacks will be a rarity, a shocking crime that disrupts our lives but does not fundamentally change them. Perhaps the migrants will be absorbed and the populist parties disappear. Perhaps all those French (and British) citizens who have gone to murder, rape and enslave for Isis will not return to inflict their godly terror on us or inspire online imitators to commit crimes of their own. In 20 years, our children may well be able to look back and say with relief that the continuities with the past outweigh the differences once again.

Perhaps, in short, we will be lucky. But I have to say that looking at the pictures from Paris today it feels as if our luck has run out.
My guess would be that Cohen is right about the end of liberalism but wrong that we have been "lucky" up to now. "Tolerance" has been the silver lining on the cloud of inequality and plutocracy. Personal freedom has made the progressive erosion of aspirations for popular sovereignty more tolerable. Not that popular sovereignty was ever more than an aspiration.

Herbert Marcuse coined the term, repressive tolerance, that has been gleefully misrepresented by right-wing "political correctness" conspiracy theorists as a prescription for Marxist totalitarian subversion of Western Civilization. Actually, the notion should have been inoffensive to conservatives. The idea was that a certain amount of sublimation was crucial for an emancipatory politics; commercially-promoted libidinal license served to undermine resistance to the status quo.

This is not to say that the new era of thinly-veiled martial law we now may be entering into will necessarily unleash a wave of revolutionary consciousness. But perhaps as they are shutting down the circus, the new Caesars will deem it prudent to ration the bread more equitably.