Professor Thomas Main is back with another deeply confused attack on “rightwing illiberalism” over at The Bulwark.
“America is having an illiberal moment, with parts of both the right and left flirting openly with illiberalism. Both are dangerous. But which danger is more clear and present?
To get at this, we have to start by settling on a definition of illiberalism.
I posit that a working definition of illiberalism that applies to both left and right might be summarized as any system of beliefs which run counter to the political philosophy summarized in the Declaration of Independence.
The Declaration’s main principles are political egalitarianism; human rights; limited government; electoral democracy; the legitimacy of change; the rule of law; and tolerance. You could define illiberalism many ways, but an easy one would be: any explicit rejection of, or attack on, that order. Any ideology of whatever orientation, right or left, that explicitly repudiates these principles is illiberal.
Illiberalism is dangerous in whatever form it takes. But not all dangers are created equal. And in America, right now, it is clear that the size and influence of right-wing illiberalism dwarfs that of left-wing illiberalism.”
Where to start?
According to Thomas Main, True Liberalism is the political philosophy outlined in the Declaration of Independence, which of course is synonymous with the worldview of people like himself.
Last time I checked, Thomas Jefferson was a race realist, a racial separatist, a slave owner and a white supremacist. The Declaration of Independence specifically condemns King George III for inciting “domestic insurrections amongst us” and for inciting “the merciless Indian Savages” who lived on our frontier. The Declaration of Independence was only signed by White men too and the only “inalienable rights” that it mentions are specifically the rights to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. The whole thrust and purpose of the document was also to justify American independence from Great Britain.
Is that what we are arguing about in 2022? Are the “illiberals” opposed to American independence and self determination? Are the “illiberals” arguing that we shouldn’t have elections anymore? Are the “illiberals” trying to get rid of self government? Are the “illiberals” denying anyone their inalienable rights to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Are the “illiberals” trying to restore slavery?
As I pointed out in my previous response to Thomas Main, the Founding Fathers of the United States did not create a “liberal democracy.” They created a federal republic of sovereign states. The Constitution is full of “anti-democratic” features like the Senate and Electoral College. The Constitution excludes “Indians not taxed” and counted slaves as “three fifths of all other Persons” for purposes of representation. The only equality that existed under our original constitution was the equality of states in the Senate.
The Founders did not create a “liberal democracy” based on “human rights” and “political egalitarianism.” The overwhelming majority of blacks were slaves. The overwhelming majority of Indians were treated as foreign tribes. Women lived under patriarchy. American naturalization law reserved citizenship to “free White persons” until the 20th century. The Bill of Rights only restricted the power of the federal government while the Tenth Amendment reserved vast powers to the states. American citizenship was derived from state citizenship until the Reconstruction era. There was no such thing as “equality under the law.” There wasn’t a consolidated government enforcing a universal ideal of rights.
Everything that we are really arguing about only developed much later in American history. Well, it is either that or progressives like Thomas Main whining about things that they would like to abolish like the filibuster, Senate or the Electoral College, which have existed since the beginning of the Republic. The real source of contention between us though seems to be social liberalism.
By “rightwing illiberalism,” Thomas Main really means people on the Right who explicitly reject progressive liberalism and especially social liberalism. The Founding Fathers distinguished between different types of equality. They drew a key distinction between civil equality, political equality and social equality. Some forms of equality were desirable while others were not. They didn’t believe in a natural right to vote. They weren’t trying to abolish the social order or level all distinctions between groups. They certainly didn’t believe that, say, every citizen was equally entitled to the same amount of property. Communism is a type of equality, but that has never been our system of government.
The truth is that what we are really arguing over is the cultural hegemony of 20th century and early 21st century progressivism. It is a peculiar strain of post-World War II liberalism which mutated from its Victorian predecessor and has become dominant inside the Democratic Party. It is based on social liberalism which has a unique genetic signature that includes antiracism, modernism, cosmopolitanism and political correctness all of which have ascended in our culture via academia and the media since the 1920s and have become increasingly contentious flashpoints in the culture war since the 1960s.
Honestly, progressive liberalism itself seems to have died out over the past two years or so and has been replaced by woke progressivism which is now the authoritarian governing ideology of the Democratic Party. Equality has fallen out of fashion. Equity is the goal now. “Racism” itself has been redefined under the Biden administration to mean the systematic oppression of BIPOCs by White people. Ibram X. Kendi, not Thomas Jefferson, seems to be the guru of the contemporary Democratic Party.
As a “rightwing illiberal,” I increasingly find myself in the odd position of agreeing with people like Glenn Greenwald. I’m opposed to the censorship, the vax mandates and the weaponization of the “intelligence community” by Democrats. I’ve always been opposed to warmongering neocons and neolibs. I’m opposed to Joe Biden’s assault on civil liberties and Merrick Garland’s assault on the police. I’m opposed to the surveillance state. I’m on the side of the pro-life movement. I’m on the side of people who support gun rights. I’m opposed to the people who are toppling statues of Thomas Jefferson in New York City. I’m not nearly as race obsessed as “mainstream” figures like Elie Mystal or Don Lemon or Joy Reid. I look at people like Tiffany Cross and conclude that I don’t want to sound like that.
Isn’t it amazing? I’m not in favor of distributing the COVID vaccine or denying people access to life saving therapeutics on the basis of race. I’m far more tolerant of opposing views than these people. I’m also just a political commentator who makes fun of people on the internet. It is not like I am running the FBI or purging the military or using the national security state to crush my political enemies!
The real threat though is people who exercise their First Amendment rights to make fun of the political establishment on the internet. It is people who haven’t swallowed the gospel of Ibram X. Kendi!