The family, politics and spirit of classical liberalism

In the Trump administration, it seems every Thanksgiving is an occasion for the media to carry progressives’ troubling stories of what to do when racist uncle at the holiday dinner table spoke out in support of the 45th president. When those essays ended with a military note, either in favor of refusing to attend or declaring an order confrontation and denounced the violation by relatives, many of us were startled.

We are not doing this because we are cowards or Trump supporters. We did so in the spirit of classical liberalism.

Right-wing critics of liberalism like to mock it for its desire to be politically neutral. These critics assert that such neutrality is impossible, because as a political philosophy classical liberalism always posits substantive moral positions and therefore cannot stand. on the war. But liberalism, rightly understood, does not aspire – let alone claim to have achieved – neutrality. It is only intended to check and contain politics to make room for other non-political pursuits and goods.

It is not a political philosophy of neutrality. It is a political philosophy of limits.

This is why classical liberalism is often talked about in terms of freedom. But this is not (or not simply) freedom to be understood as the absence of external constraints on individuals. It is also, and possibly more fundamental, freedom understood as living one’s life without political considerations affecting all, or even most, of our choices. That means allowing people to worship or not worship God as they please and read or not read as they choose, but also allowing them to decide for themselves how important politics should be in their lives. their life.

Back in 1982, when the Cold War was heating up again, Leon Wieseltier wrote a beautiful essay for New republic (not available online), in which he criticized conservatives who tried to politicize the culture in the interest of promoting Western views against the Soviet Union. In particular, one passage perfectly captures the holistic humanist view of liberalism: “The real victory over tyranny is not a poem about freedom, but a poem about love – a poem that neither submits nor resists, because it gives freedom. Not rights.” political, but not political. “

If you come across a pro-Trump uncle at a family gathering this Thanksgiving and feel the urge to rage against him, consider the classic liberal response: Change alternative theme. Realize that life is more than political disagreements and disputes.

That kind of freedom is something every American should be grateful for: Not political correctness, but no politics. The family, politics and spirit of classical liberalism


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