For some time I have pondered why so many people so readily become liberals. Political liberalism is such a pile of steaming ordure, and hurts so many people, that it seems at first glance counter-intuitive that so deleterious a philosophy would gain so many adherents so easily. This is a big topic and this brief blog post will only begin to discuss the situation. For a wonderful book on the attraction of liberalism, please see Thomas Sowell’s The Vision of the Anointed: Self-Congratulation as a Basis for Social Policy. The book can be found at a reasonable cost, under $11.00 (shipping included, but prior to sales tax), especially at AbeBooks and ebay, and almost as cheaply at Alibris or Amazon.
Recently I stumbled on an article by Jay Langdale, in “Chronicles Magazine,” February 2020, pp. 16-18. He was writing about Richard Weaver (b. 1910-d. 1963), a southern conservative most famous for the book Ideas Have Consequences. Mr. Langdale recounts how Weaver was pondering, while driving on a Texas highway, whether or not to return to an academic job at Texas A&M. Weaver, as near as I can tell, must have been in his late 20s or early 30s. Mr. Langdale quotes from Richard Weaver:
“I did not have to go back to this job, which had become distasteful, and I did not have to go on professing the cliches of liberalism, which were becoming meaningless to me. I saw that my opinions had been formed out of a timorous regard for what was supposed to be intellectually respectable, and that I had always been looking over my shoulder to find out what certain others, whose concern with the truth I was beginning to believe to be not very intense, were doing or thinking. It is a great experience to wake up at a critical juncture to the fact that one does have a free will, and that giving up the worship of false idols is a quite practicable proceeding.”
There is so much here to unpack!
But first this caveat. When I first read this quote, I thought how much it explains about how liberals become liberals. They want to be intellectually respectable. But as the weeks have passed, I have begun to consider how profoundly this applies to mainstream conservatism as well–what is sometimes called Conservatism Inc–with its almost uniform warmongering position on foreign policy. The conservatives of our day, I think, are timorous and want to be intellectually respectable, just like the liberals. While I feared offending any liberals who accidentally read this column, now I needn’t worry. I can offend almost every mainstream conservative, as well. I am an equal opportunity offender.
Now a bit more about the Weaver quote. Weaver was being honest with himself. He used the word “timorous” to describe his behavior. He was not being brave. He wanted to be intellectually respectable–which would mean going along with what almost everybody else was thinking and saying. He was looking over his shoulder, shaping his own thoughts in the fashion he wanted others to approve. But he had begun to smell a rat about the love of truth among those others. Is this not a key for all of us? Is not the love of truth central for us? If we love truth, we will follow it where it leads. If we don’t love truth, we will just try to fit in with others, accept cliches as good enough.
Weaver was having an epiphany. He was waking up. He had free will. We might quarrel with that term, but all of us would probably agree that he had moral responsibility. Certainly he understood his own responsibility. He had worshiped false idols, but he didn’t have to do so. He was about age 30. He was not hardened in his wrongheadedness. He could change how he lived and thought.
Thomas Sowell, incidentally, dropped his youthful leftism at about the age 30. It seems to be the mid to late 20s and early 30s in which we begin to show whether or not we love truth or don’t. Before that age we are still developing intellectually. After too long a time without being willing to think for ourselves we can become hardened in our carelessness. Who among us has the courage to drop wrongheaded ideas after we have held them for long decades? A few, no doubt, but not many. The sooner we come to the love of truth, the better. Weaver had not become hardened in his timorousness and carelessness.
Of course there are other reasons to be a liberal, or a mainstream conservative, than a desire to be respectable. We can not be part of the ruling class elite if we don’t become liberals. We can not be successful members of Conservatism Inc if we think for ourselves. “National Review” is not going to publish our articles. We will be called unpatriotic if we do not support the wars “National Review” supports–as paleoconservatives found when they offended “NR” by not approving the second war with Iraq. We will always fit in if we become liberals or mainstream conservatives. (For an example of how wrongheaded one mainstream conservative can be–and he is far from the worst of the lot–please check out my post of Oct. 25, 2018, “A conservative with recommendations.” With friends like that, we don’t need enemies.)
We all have a need to consider ourselves righteous. But typically we are only self-righteous rather than righteous. Self-righteousness is easy. Righteousness is hard, and depends on us believing and obeying the teachings of God. That is easier said than done, given our preference for easy over hard.
Weaver has hit upon the fact that we tend to be timorous rather than brave. We need to develop the kind of feisty behavior of King Henry “the Eight,” as described by Huckleberry Finn.
‘”Well, Henry he takes a notion he wants to get up some trouble with this country. How does he go at it–give notice?–give the country a show? No. All of a sudden he heaves all the tea in Boston Harbor overboard, and whacks out a declaration of independence, and dares them to come on.”‘ (Chapter XXIII of Huckleberry Finn)
We need to imitate King Henry. We need to tell the liberals and mainstream conservatives, “A plague on both your houses,” whack out our own declaration of independence and dare them to come on.
If we base our thinking on what the Bible teaches, we will have a solid foundation for honest thinking. Do we love truth enough? Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn quoted a Russian proverb: “One word of truth outweighs the whole world.” Neither liberalism nor mainstream conservatism have much truth. Which means, that if the God of the Bible exists, their respectable lies one day will be exposed and overthrown by God.
It might be smarter, as well as braver, for us to at least try to be on the side of the angels, whether we can get there or not.