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Liberalism: Can it survive?

John Leo

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Question for the day: if liberalism isn't dead, then why are autopsies performed so regularly? In the latest examination of the much-probed cadaver, the New Republic 's editor-in-chief, Martin Peretz, recalls that John Kenneth Galbraith, in the early 1960s, pronounced American conservatism dead, citing as heavy evidence that conservatism was "bookless" or bereft of new ideas. Peretz writes, "It is liberalism that is now bookless and dying." Liberals, he says, are not inspired by any vision of the good society; the liberal agenda consists of wanting to spend more, while conservatives want to spend less. And the lack of new ideas and the absence of influential liberal thinkers, he says, are obvious.

Galbraith's comment contains some comfort for liberals: Conservatism revived with great intellectual ferment and a long burst of new ideas, and liberalism presumably can do the same. But there is no sign that this is happening. No real breakthrough in liberal thought and programs has occurred since the New Deal, giving liberalism its nostalgic, reactionary cast.

Worse, the cultural liberalism that emerged from the convulsions of the 1960s drove the liberal faith out of the mainstream. Its fundamental value is that society should have no fundamental values, except for a pervasive relativism that sees all values as equal. Part of the package was a militant secularism, pitched against religion, the chief source of fundamental values. Complaints about "imposing" values were also popular then, aimed at teachers and parents who worked to socialize children.

Read the entire article on the US News and World Report website (new window will open).

Posted: 09-Mar-05



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