No amount of evidence will convince liberals that they were wrong. Evidence abounds, to be sure: Appeasement invites aggression. Handouts increase dependency. Coddling terror-states like Iran elicits megalomania. Big government stifles the economy. They don’t care. Really.
John Kerry romanced Basher Assad and Vanity Fair published a fawning profile of the Assad family, while the Obama administration secretly courted Iran. As a result we have in Syria the worst humanitarian catastrophe in the Arab world in modern times. Algeria racked up more casualties during the independence war of 1954-1962 and the civil war of 1991-2002, to be sure, but the casualties are coming faster in Syria and the displacement of immiserated civilians is greater. Do you hear liberals wringing their hands and asking, “Where did we go wrong?” They don’t, and they won’t. Ditto the disaster in Libya, which is turning into a Petri dish for terrorists post-Qaddafi. It doesn’t matter. Being in love with yourself means never having to say you’re sorry.
In the one part of the Middle East where nothing bad is happening or likely to happen–namely Israel–liberals are in full-tilt panic, with John Kerry warning that Israel will turn into an apartheid state. It’s not just Kerry, who is a national embarrassment, but the whole liberal world that thinks this way. In reality, Israel’s booming economy is enriching Israeli as well as Palestinian Arabs, to the extent that the kleptocratic Palestinian Authority lets them do business. There is no urgency at all to Israel’s situation–not, at least, where the Palestinians are concerned. Iran is another story.
Why don’t liberals seem to notice the catastrophic consequences of their policies, and why to they imagine imminent horrors where none exist? If you corner a liberal and point to a disaster that followed upon his policy, at very most he will say–with a tear in the eye and a quivering upper lip–“We did the right thing.”
It’s all about having done the right thing according to the dogma of the ersatz liberal religion. Liberalism has nothing whatsoever to do with policy and its real-world consequences. Instead of finding one’s salvation on the path of traditional religions, liberals look for salvation in a set of right opinions–on race, the environment, income distribution, gender, or whatever. Last month I called attention to Joseph Bottum’s new book An Anxious Age, which I reviewed at the American Interest. Jody argues that modern liberalism is the old Mainline Protestantism, and especially the old Social Gospel, turned into a secular cult. I wrote:
Today’s American liberalism, it is often remarked, amounts to a secular religion: it has its own sacred texts and taboos, Crusades and Inquisitions. The political correctness that undergirds it, meanwhile, can be traced back to the past century’s liberal Protestantism. Conservatives, of course, routinely scoff that liberals’ ersatz religion is inferior to the genuine article.
Joseph Bottum, by contrast, examines post-Protestant secular religion with empathy, and contends that it gained force and staying power by recasting the old Mainline Protestantism in the form of catechistic worldly categories: anti-racism, anti-gender discrimination, anti-inequality, and so forth. What sustains the heirs of the now-defunct Protestant consensus, he concludes, is a sense of the sacred, but one that seeks the security of personal salvation through assuming the right stance on social and political issues. Precisely because the new secular religion permeates into the pores of everyday life, it sustains the certitude of salvation and a self-perpetuating spiritual aura. Secularism has succeeded on religious terms. That is an uncommon way of understanding the issue, and a powerful one.
It’s hard to make sense of liberalism without recourse to theology–not the superficial theology of doctrinal comparison, but Jody’s sensitive investigation of how the liberal religion looks from the inside, from the vantage point of its true believers (the “poster children,” as Jody calls them). It’s a rare book that helps us to peer more deeply into everyday phenomena, and Jody’s is one of them. It really must be read.
Liberals don’t see failed liberal policies as “failed,” any more than people of faith think that unanswered prayers are “failed” prayers. The difference is that people of faith abnegate themselves in prayer to a wholly-other divine person, while liberal poster-children subject the world to the narcissistic demands of their own spiritual needs. Jody isn’t the first to make the point. “Remember the war against Franco/That’s the kind where each of us belongs,” sang Tom Lehrer. “He may have won all the battles/But we had all the good songs.” But he makes it in a theologically-informed way that exposes the phenomenology of liberal self-worship.
The slaughter in Syria is a minor annoyance to the poster children, whereas peace and prosperity in Israel are cataclysmic disasters. That sounds funny, but it isn’t to the liberals: bringing a liberally-conceived peace to the Middle East is one of those Great Opportunities for Redemption, and to miss it is a tragedy of unimaginable proportions. Darwin forbid that Israel might carry on as a pocket superpower in science, business, and the arts, educating and empowering a new Arab middle class, without submitting to the demands of liberal theology. It’s not only John Kerry who stands to lose his last shot at a Nobel Prize. Liberals of all stripes stand to lose the chance, to demonstrate that particularity (for example, Zionism) is inherently wrong and that liberal universality is right.
You can’t argue with liberals. Prove to them their policy has made things worse, and they will say in effect, “Worse for whom? It sure made me feel better!” Tell them that they have foredained their own extinction because their metrosexuality doesn’t leave time for children, and they will gaze heavenward and contemplate martyrdom on behalf of the earth-goddess Gaia. There are too many people polluting the earth anyway.
Dr. Frankenstein didn’t care that he had created a monster. You can’t argue with the man; the only thing to do is to persuade the villagers to march on his castle.
A postscript on neo-conservatives: Irving Kristol liked to say that a neoconservative was a liberal who was mugged by reality. The neocons were liberals who actually cared about the consequences of their actions, and ipso facto stopped being liberals. After the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, the failed Bush Freedom Initiative, the abortive Arab Spring, and the Libyan disaster, there appear to be diminishing returns to the marginal mugging.