Contribuição para a compreensão do Liberalismo

Do livro de Ryszard Legutko, The Demon in Democracy, uma passagem:

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(…) Liberalism is primarily a doctrine of power, both self-regarding and other-regarding: it aims to limit the power of other agents, and at the same time grants enormous prerogatives for itself. In a sense it is a super-theory of society, logically prior to and—by its own declaration of self-importance—higher than any other. It attributes to itself the right to be more general, more spacious, and more universal than any of its rivals. Its goal is—as the liberals say—to create a general framework within which others will be able to cooperate. The liberals will never voluntarily give up this admittedly highest of political prerogatives to anyone and will never agree to share it.

Why this extraordinary hubris and the belief that liberalism should play the main, in matter of fact, the only organizing role in society? Until recently, the liberals have been saying, probably in good faith, that they are doctrinally transparent because not only do they not exclude anyone from the great society but they want to include everyone in it. To use an analogy: they think they are like those who write the rules of the road and at the same time are responsible for directing traffic. They aim to create a system that will be most efficient and most convenient to a large number of vehicles, much higher than that of other road builders or traffic wardens. According to what they have claimed, they are the only ones who can create such a system because only they are neutral, their sole interest being to secure freedom for each and every agent.

This noble goal, however, has its other side, usually ignored by liberals who claim to be transparent. Not only do these liberals position themselves above the others, but they always demand more power—ostensibly for making more traffic rules and hiring more traffic wardens—being almost never satisfied with the power they have. Not only do they want to control the mechanisms of the great society but also those of all its parts; not only what is general but also specifics; not only human actions but human thoughts as well. The original message, “we will only create a framework for society at large, and you will be able to do what you want within it” is rapidly turning into increasingly detailed message such as, “we will only create frameworks in education (in the family, in community life) and you will be able to do what you want within them later.” But even this is not enough: “We will only create a framework at this school and you will be able to do what you want within it later.” Then the class follows the school and so on and so forth.

Few liberals claim to be transparent nowadays. Most of them openly stand for a specific worldview, which they believe to be the most adequate of and for modern times, formulated in opposition to other worldviews and held to be uncompromisingly superior to them. They no longer hide themselves under the formula “we are creating only a general framework,” but fight hard for their power over minds and institutions.

This spirit of partisanship should not be surprising, as liberalism has always had a strong sense of the enemy, a direct consequence of its dualistic perception of the world. After all, liberalism is more about political struggle with non-liberal adversaries than deliberation with them. Although such words as “dialogue” and “pluralism” appear among its favorite motifs, as do “tolerance” and other similarly hospitable notions, this overtly generous rhetorical orchestration covers up something entirely different. In its essence, liberalism is unabashedly aggressive because it is determined to hunt down all nonliberal agents and ideas, which it treats as a threat to itself and to humanity. The organizing principle of liberalism—as in all other philosophies aiming to change the world radically—is therefore dualism, not pluralism. The modern stalwart of liberalism, Isaiah Berlin, was absolutely faithful to the liberal spirit when he said that the history of human thought could be viewed as a conflict between pluralism and monism, and that liberalism represents the former, whereas everything that is not liberal represents the latter.

This opinion, fairly typical, reveals the absurdity of the liberal claim. First, Berlin and other liberal-minded thinkers put duality—monism versus pluralism, closed versus open, freedom versus authority, tolerant versus autocratic—as the primary division, and by so doing had to assume that whoever supports pluralism must be for dualism. It is like saying that anyone who is for diversity must see the world dichotomously.

This leads to an even more bizarre conclusion: that whoever supports pluralism must favor liberalism, which means that anyone who wants to recognize the multiplicity of social arrangements and the diversity of human experience can accept only one philosophical and political philosophy. Given that in the course of the history of human thought there were dozens of different profoundly nonliberal philosophies—many of them of great intellectual value—such a conclusion can only be compared with Henry Ford’s famous statement about the Model T: in defense of pluralism, we give people the right to choose any available philosophy, provided that they choose liberalism.

Berlin himself, a superbly educated man, knew very well and admitted quite frankly that the most important and most valuable fruits of Western philosophy were monistic in nature. The consequence of this was inescapable: virtually everything intellectually intriguing that the Western mind produced in the field of philosophy had to be classified not only as monistic, but also as nonliberal. Therefore, if we take Berlin’s view seriously and disregard all monistic theories in the entire history of human thought, we would be left with very little. The effect of this supposed liberal pluralism would be a gigantic purge of Western philosophy, bringing an inevitable degradation of the human mind.

The communists, who were the first to use, and with much success, the dualistic perspective to fight their enemies, made us accustomed to a certain practice of philosophical polemic: they evaluated the arguments of their adversaries in the light of political consequences. The arguments were to be rejected not necessarily because of their demonstrated spuriousness but because of their political implications for communism: one accepted what served the movement’s cause, and one rejected what hindered its construction. Lenin, of course, made this practice his only method of argumentation: every fact, thought, idea, book or person was looked at from one and only one perspective—whether they were useful for or detrimental to Russian communism.

The liberals adopted a similar Leninist practice, though probably they would not find the adjective pleasing. When faced with a statement, or an opinion, or an idea, the first and most important question they ask is whether any of these may be dangerous: that is, whether they may potentially contradict liberal assumptions. Their favorite version of this approach is a slippery-slope argument. It amounts to the following: if one can indicate that this or that idea may sooner or later lead to some harmful practices, the idea should be discarded as politically contaminated. Because most theoretical claims or statements contain an element of unity—which the liberals would call monism—or imply a hierarchy—which the liberals would call domination—these claims and statements can be interpreted as direct or indirect encouragements to some form of political authoritarianism, and immediately become politically suspect. To give an example taken from Berlin, several philosophers made a distinction between superior and inferior parts of the soul. Whether this statement is true or false is of little importance; what is important is that it is politically dangerous because it is easy to imagine a group, a party, a community, or a church considering itself to represent this superior part of the soul and using coercion against another group, party, community, or church to which it will ascribe the role of a representative of the inferior part of the soul. This kind of argument—outrageous, let us admit it—is considered by the liberals to be decisive, and it serves them to disparage opponents by suggesting that by making seemingly harmless theoretical statements they open the gates to totalitarianism, fascism, inquisition, torture, Hitler, and various other horrors.

Surprisingly this essentially intolerant and doctrinaire side has been overlooked, and liberalism achieved a remarkable success in conquering people’s minds. In the past few decades, the liberals and the liberal democrats have managed to silence and marginalize nearly all alternatives and all nonliberal views of political order. Liberalism monopolized people’s minds to an extent that would put to shame the theorists of socialism in the communist countries, who, after all, had much richer resources at their disposal.

(in Ryszard Legutko – The Demon in Democracy, pp. 76-81. Encounter Books, New York, 2016)

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