Zack Beauchamp on this illiberal moment

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at:, or follow me on Twitter.

The West has been admired for its liberalism for 2,500 years, and yet at no time during those 2,500 years was its liberalism the dominant force in Western politics. It has always been under attack, and every implementation of it has been deeply flawed.

Keep that in mind when reading Vox’s concern about this illiberal moment:

On the right, the anti-liberals locate the root of the problem in liberalism’s social doctrines, its emphasis on secularism and individual rights. In their view, these ideas are solvents breaking down America’s communities and, ultimately, dissolving the very social fabric the country needs to prosper.

Liberalism “constantly disrupts deeply cherished traditions among its subject populations, stirring unrest, animosity, and eventually political reaction and backlash,” Harvard law professor Adrian Vermeule, one of the most prominent of the reactionary anti-liberals, said in a May speech.

Left anti-liberals, by contrast, pinpoint liberal economic doctrine as the source of our current woes. Liberalism’s vision of the economy as a zone of individual freedom, in their view, has given rise to a deep system of exploitation that makes a mockery of liberal claims to be democratic — an oppressive system referred to as “neoliberalism.”

“Neoliberalism in any guise is not the solution but the problem,” Nancy Fraser, a professor at the New School, writes. “The sort of change we require can only come from elsewhere, from a project that is at the very least anti-neoliberal, if not anti-capitalist.”

The defenses from America’s liberal intellectual elite have been weak at best. The most prominent defenses of liberalism today are either laundry lists of its past glories or misplaced attacks on “identity politics” and “political correctness,” neither of which are adequate to the challenge presented by liberalism’s newly vital critics on the reactionary right or socialist left.