Not the Toltec, but a new ancient culture, as it were: the Taltex.

A small primitive culture within larger, more advanced, cultures, the Taltex attempts to maintain its way of life against serious odds. Only about fifteen percent of Afghans support Taltex rule; a strong majority of Texans oppose Taltex beliefs about abortion.

We now begin to see serious civil unrest in Afghanistan, and boycotts of Texas, as the Taltex imposes its primeval social philosophy on a larger culture that rejects it. More broadly, in the US, we see anti-Taltex hacktivism and other forms of digital dissent.

Prospects for both current Taltex breakouts look dim: Endless bloodshed seems likely to characterize Taltex-A, whereas Taltex-T faces legal challenges, sabotage, and isolation.

Cheria Law

Cher is “wondering when [the] Texas Senate will start mandating burqas,” and UD is thrilled.

Between the Taliban and the Texas Senate, these are heady days for burqa haters like your blogueuse. Anti-burqa brigades have hit the Afghan streets, their bravery absolutely stunning. People are talking about the burqa, actually looking at and thinking about the burqa, not doing that thing where they look away and shrug and talk about diversity and piety. The women of Afghanistan are again making the absolutely plain absolutely plain: The deepest bottom of the deepest barrel for women anywhere on the globe is the nihilating burqa; and women in Europe and the United States who wear it proudly – and, even more revoltingly, make their young daughters wear them – ought to be ashamed.

It’s about…

time.

UD saunters through a recent polemic about the hijab and burqa, commenting along the way.

Problems start in the headline.

Rather than asking whether Islam is liberal enough to belong in Europe, the more relevant question today appears to be whether Europe is liberal enough to accept Muslim women.

Given many restrictions on various forms of veiling in countries all over the world, including the middle east, this is certainly not the more relevant question. With these historical trends, the more relevant question is whether countries that mandate veiling are liberal enough to stop doing this.

The hijab is more than a religious symbol to those who wear it. Muslim women cover their hair out of tradition, to maintain a connection to their cultural heritage, or for reasons of modesty. Several young European women I spoke to explained that they wear the hijab despite protests from their immigrant families, who do not want them to face undue scrutiny or discrimination at work.

This is the vague, anodyne stuff one always gets from champions of covering up. Just saying it’s a religious symbol is empty: Tell me what it symbolizes religiously, because not all forms of behavior that call themselves religious get an automatic pass.

Out of tradition? Meaning? Veiling is tribal, and very limitedly tribal. Do all of the women who veil come from a tribe that veils? And is a liberal culture compelled to tolerate all tribal behavior? Again, precision, please.

Reasons of modesty must be discussed alongside religion, no? And tribe? I mean, can we put all of this together to make a salient point? It would be something like: These women perceive themselves to derive from particular tribes. (Which tribes?) These tribes feature a form of Islam which the women believe mandates that women must hide themselves from men. You note that their families often protest their behavior. Could this be because, alongside its negative social and economic consequences, it lacks any legitimate Islamic grounding? This, in other words, might be a good point in the essay to cite any Koranic verse mandating veiling.

The rampant European misperception of the hijab as a symbol of a supposedly misogynistic Islamic culture…

Funny thing about that rampancy. Wonder where it comes from. Wonder why vast swathes of the world perceive… well, all religions as misogynistic, but Islam as king of the misogynists… wonder where that comes from.

I’m afraid, in other words, that you’re not going to be able to dance your way to your conclusions through a series of false or undercooked generalizations.

At no point in her essay does the writer attempt to understand rampant legislation, votes, referendums, against veiling – in countries all over the world. She does the pointless dance most defenders of burqas and hijabs do: Countries all over the world are Islamophobic, and hijab/burqa wearers are their victims. Here’s some advice: Get off the dance floor and do the hard honest work of figuring out why you’re losing this fight. Don’t be like Donald Trump, who loses a fight and stands there wailing like a fool. Accept your losses and analyze them.

“I’m tired of defending my right to wear a headscarf.”

Too tired even to say why you wear it, what it means, if it’s religious, why lots of people in secular countries have difficulty with it in certain settings… This writer is just too tired to do anything but lament her victimization by fools and bigots.

“It’s just a piece of cloth,” she writes, as if this vacuous statement settles the case. Clearly, for her and for others, it is far, far more than this. Look at the non-negotiable energy she brings to a mere bit of cloth. But she will not tell us what this enormous thing that the piece of cloth means is. If she would tell us, we could begin to talk.

It is part of who we are, the meaning it holds is for us. It is not intended as a symbol, protest, political expression or as a challenge to anyone else.

So it symbolizes for you nothing. Really? It is not a form of expression. Really? If the meaning it holds is for you, and if that meaning is non-problematic, why don’t you tell us what the meaning is? Obviously, a lot of secular people, citing your religion, take it to mean that God is displeased by women who do not hide themselves from men. Women, be modest! It is a modesty mandate, no? If that is not its meaning for you, you should let us know. Because everything we have come to understand about Muslim women covering themselves comes down to it being a response to a religious commandment to hide yourself from the sight of men. It says I am a chaste, modest woman. It is purity garb.

This submission to a religious mandate that reduces your visibility in the world of women and men speaks volumes to many secular women and men; it says that women are lesser beings, hopelessly seductive beings, defined by their seductive physicality that leads men astray. Your hijab says that we must put the welfare and freedom of men before that of women; for we can imagine a fairer, more logical, more egalitarian religion which mandates, let’s say, blinders for men lest they be led astray by their lusts, for after all they are their lusts. But you represent a less egalitarian religion, which says women bear responsibility for the reaction of men to them, and must be the ones who swathe themselves to remove their powers of seduction.

So take up every point in the above; if it is grossly mistaken, say so, and correct it.

********************

Secular states often prefer, in the public and work setting, religious neutrality.

So what is neutrality? There is no objective answer because even deciding on what constitutes neutrality is by definition a non-neutral act.

No, religious neutrality is exactly what it says it is — Non-expressiveness in regard to any religion. No overt religious markers. There’s nothing relative here; it’s quite absolute. Unlike religious states, secular states are neutral in regard to religion, which means that all religious citizens of secular states may be subject to the same constraint on the wearing of religious clothing, jewelry, what have you. Of course in fact in most secular states, in most settings, no constraints on the wearing of religious items exists at all; but increasingly some of these places have been introducing some constraints.

We can certainly talk about why burqa bans and hijab restrictions are beginning to appear, but only if we can stipulate that the reasons involve something more complex than Islamophobia. I think that the burqa bans are pretty straightforward: There are obvious security issues; the entire shielding of the face and mouth constitutes a refusal to enter into the civic realm as an open, free, and equal individual; in educational settings, the burqa seriously impedes learning; to put a six year old child in a burqa is to impose radical invisibility and constraint on someone without any agency in the matter, etc. In the case of the hijab, it seems clear that its values of female fear of the male, or at least insistence on accommodating male lust and subsequent shrinking from full and equal physical presence in the world offends significant enough numbers of modern secular men and women that some real and negative consequences may ensue for commercial settings. Offended people may take their patronage elsewhere.

Let us by all means discuss whether these are contemptible responses to the primary Islamic meaning of the hijab, unworthy of the sort of judgment the EU court just handed down. One could argue that one ought not be upset at one’s six year old daughter seeing another six year old girl entirely covered in cloth; or one could argue that one is free to be upset, but not free to refuse to enter a store/restaurant where that little girl is playing behind the counter. You are living in a free country where people may freely express their belief about modesty and six year old girls; your task as a citizen of such a country is to tolerate this parental behavior.

But of course people are going to do what they want. Secular people might well – legitimately – care deeply about the formation of their female children into free and equal citizens of secular republics; they might legitimately regard visible female unfreedom as threatening to that formation. One might indeed begin to see a sort of boycott of spaces where the sight of unfree children and women is routine – a situation that the EU court is clearly responding to in its judgment.

It is not Islam, and it is not religion generally, to which these people are responding so negatively, I would argue. It is simply the sight of significantly unfree and unequal women and children that offends.

“While people with liberal values are highly tolerant of Muslims, such values are not predictive of support for the headscarf.” [Marc] Helbling hypothesizes this is because “people with liberal values are tolerant of immigrants in general but feel torn when it comes to religious practices that are perceived by some people as reflecting illiberal values.”

Again – by all means insist that hijabs are empowering and we seculars are getting it wrong, wrong, wrong. But realize that in making this claim you have a very high mountain to climb.

UD’s Liberal Reckoning, Part 2.

For the first installment of UD’s attempt to be reasonably self-aware about the fact that she’s a liberal, go here, and be sure to read the comments, which include a lengthy give and take between me and my old friend Rita Koganzon.

It’s clear from this blog’s long preoccupation with the genital mutilation of children, enforced veiling, enforced sex segregation, child marriage, various forms of erasure of women and images of women from the public realm, etc., etc., that an absolutely crucial liberal value, for UD, is gender equality.

One of her boyfriends at Northwestern University was an Iranian, from an extremely poor family, who scored so well on a national exam that he got one of the Shah’s special fellowships to study engineering at an American university.

His mother, he told me, was literally taken from playing with her dolls and married off to a man in his thirties. She was if I remember correctly nine years old.

Her husband’s sister could not have children, so this woman’s first child – she must have given birth at twelve or something – was simply taken from her and given to the sister.

I don’t remember the rest of her life story, but I remember my hopelessly naive shock at this tale, my hopeless effort to imagine this woman’s life in all its horror; and this of course was an early lesson for UD in the difference between liberal and non-liberal cultures. (Forget rule of law: “[T]here is no specific age limit for marriage in Iran and marriage is possible at any age.”) Culture (FGM) and religion (all the other stuff; including, in plenty of settings, FGM) continue, all over the world, to subject women to unspeakable cruelty as a routine part of life. We ignore most of it, since it’s so huge, but our attention will certainly be riveted to it at least for a little while as the Taliban begin reinterring Afghan women and girls.

And to be clear: None of this is to deny what Jordan Peterson rightly goes on about: Men have shitty lives too. We all have shitty lives, if you like – as Adam Gopnik, in his discussion of liberalism, points out:

If we got the best government imaginable, with national health care and with actually fair voting democratic voting procedures — we abolished the electoral college and Roe v. Wade was saved — we still would be stuck with the fact of mortality, with the misery of human life, with our inability to get everything we want.

Human life has a deep, deep sadness and the liberal project of reform can seem fatuous compared with the full enormity of human suffering and human unhappiness. That’s not a trivial observation; that’s deep in the richest kind of conservative political philosophy.

More tersely, there’s Adam Phillips:

The reason that there are so many depressed people is that life is so depressing for many people. It’s not a mystery.

**********************

Now in all of this, one iteration of liberal culture has it that FGM etc is none of our business – that it is indeed one of the crowning glories of liberalism that our tolerance/moral relativism finds ways to normalize these behaviors. FGM is only a nick …no one will marry you if you’re not… nicked… It’s been part of these cultures forever… To be a liberal after all is to be neutral in regard to what constitutes a good life… Only a moral absolutist would judge, let alone militate against, FGM and assorted other women-only treats…

Yet — put aside the obvious cruelty of the FGM procedure – a cruelty to which you’d think morally serious people – and certainly liberals – would respond — wouldn’t you think that since equality is one of the primary liberal virtues, liberals would judge FGM to be, well, wrong?

Or recall my many posts in 2013 about the decision of the governing body of British universities that gender segregation at university events was fine. In the language of the Muslim student groups who held such events, the Sisters could sit in the back, behind a curtain, and be quiet, while the Brothers could sit in the front and make comments.

Another eminently admirable liberal decision, based on respect for diverse ways of life.

Only right away something interesting happened. This wasn’t some far-away degradation, like FGM or child marriage; this was happening next door to my residence hall! I could SEE this – could see women obediently walking through side doors marked BLACKS ONLY I mean WOMEN ONLY… And a HUGE fuss ensued and the liberally enlightened governing body first tried condescendingly lecturing people on their benighted colonialist myopic evil until absolutely everyone starting with the prime minister came down on them like a ton of bricks and they suddenly announced uh no we meant gender segregation at university events is unlawful.

So… liberalism seems to mean standing your ground when your national liberal values are directly attacked, which is great, only UD recognizes her liberalism as equally international in orientation, which means that unlike some people she thinks there are universal non-negotiable human rights/values, and that it’s perfectly okay – even commendable – to be appalled at – call them militant and even vicious illiberalisms – around the world, and to speak and act against them.

**********************

So now let’s return to the story of the day – the EU court’s decision that under conditions of strict across the board religious neutrality, banning the hijab from the workplace might be okay. Might be. This decision is subject to all sorts of local review and approval. But that was the decision; and obviously the broader context is that one liberal European country after another is in various ways restricting the burqa and the hijab, and lots of other in no way liberal countries are also restricting various forms of female Islamic covering.

Clearly, banning certain religious forms of dress is far more questionable than banning sex segregation at university events. The latter takes a stand on behalf of gender equality in a context where such equality is obviously flouted; the former looks like illiberal bigotry against innocuous self-expression. (Marine Le Pen has called for a total ban on the hijab.) Liberal societies enshrine freedom of religion, and only an illiberal person would favor restrictions on religious symbols and apparel.

A practical problem has arisen, however. Some businesses are suffering serious losses, as people who object to the illiberal values of burqas and hijabs vote with their feet and take their business elsewhere. Are these people bigots?

Only some of them. I think some of them aren’t. Consider a woman who doesn’t want her five year old daughter to spend all day every day in the child care center with a woman whose clothing (hijab; loose full-body robe) broadcasts her deep conviction that the public relationship of women and men must be one in which women hide themselves from men; that the proper public posture of women is extreme modesty; that God wants women to hide their bodies. Having grown up in a liberal, secular, culture, this woman wants her daughter to develop in the exact opposite direction: Bold open bodily – and every other form of – self-expression in a context of absolute equality with, and non-fear of, men. (When interviewed, veiled women often talk about how they feel less subject to male harassment – they seem to see sexual harassment as hard-wired in men – when covered.)

I can easily imagine that this woman would without a second thought vote for Muslim-background political candidates, have more assimilated Muslim friends, have no objections to the core Muslim creed, etc. But the profound gender inequality of female veiling (the whole issue would be much more interesting if Muslim men also veiled) is for her a bridge too far; it offends precisely the liberal values she cherishes. It overrides the liberal value of tolerance in this situation because it threatens to have a direct effect on the liberal formation of her child. As Ronan McCrea notes, “Most mainstream religions have teachings on matters such as gender and sexuality that people can legitimately find offensive.” To their liberal values. In a certain setting.

Nice Example of Irony.

As structured now, the daycare subsidies enable Haredi fathers to spend their days studying in a beit midrash at the taxpayers’ expense rather than finding gainful employment. Without the subsidies, Haredi mothers, most of whom do have jobs, will have to work longer hours. Or even worse, the men may have to find even a part-time job. The entire edifice of ultra-Orthodox society could come crashing down.

More on the Latest Hijab Ruling

‘This judgment is not just a blow against active, dynamic and working Muslim women,’ EU Muslim Network member Suliaman Wilms told The Telegraph, ‘it’s the confirmation of an ongoing European trend to constrain the religious expression of their faith and spiritual life praxis.’

Praxis is interesting. As in an academic article title like “Contemporary Islamic Activism: The Shades of Praxis,” the word implies that bringing the veil to the public realm may amount to (among other things) a social act, a visible embodiment/performance of the truths of Islam for women. Looked at from this angle, there’s nothing ‘modest’ about covering yourself in this way; on the contrary, you are transmitting loud and clear, by your striking difference from secular people, the particularities of your faith, and in particular the offer-you-can’t-refuse nature of female covering. I am covered; I must be covered. You are not covered. Think about it.

Dominating the angry responses to yesterday’s EU court ruling that in some circumstances workplaces can ban the hijab has been an expected stress on the Islamic demand that girls and women cover themselves from the gaze of men. Once again, this is for some a non-negotiable demand.

Aisha, a lively young woman active in the mosque community, had long dreamed of becoming a psychologist and had studied hard to pursue her dream. In 2009, after moving to Paris with her husband, she found that no hospitals or clinics would accept her for clinical training in her headscarf. So she abandoned her ambition.

Okay, so no joke, right? Here is a woman who might have made a real contribution to the health of thousands of people, but because of a headscarf she won’t be doing that. So this ain’t no common headscarf: This is a headscarf profoundly arrayed with godly significance, a carrier of such powerful, constitutive Commandment that under no circumstances may one remove it (except, one assumes, in one’s home). Priests, by contrast, from virtually every denomination, may freely remove their clerical collar. Indeed, many monks are under no obligation to wear their robes. But in Islam, laypeople – not the men, to be sure, but the women – must, even at soul-crushing cost, keep that scarf attached.

Put this fiercely expressive piety in the context of a constitutionally secular country and don’t be astonished when some people don’t appreciate it. Don’t be astonished when a lot of mothers at day care don’t want their daughters to deal on a close, regular basis with a spiritual life praxis involving submission to modesty orders. Don’t be surprised when some businesses, suffering significant losses as some of these seculars avoid praxis-exhibiting work settings, appreciate judicial relief.

Dismiss these people as bigots at your peril: They have the backing of important courts, plus other important forms of legislation, and they seem to be on the side of history. As with the manifold, now-well-established burqa bans in many parts of the world (including the mideast), attacking the millions of opponents of the burqa as reactionary far right bigots gets you absolutely nowhere. Let us consider a more promising option.

It seems to ol’ UD that the obvious first thing to do is some good old-fashioned public relations. This does not mean slick social media advertisements featuring veiled athletes at the Olympics. There’s no content there, and you need to make an argument. You need to argue that it would be humane and enlightened for seculars to try to overcome their resistance to you. You need to be willing to talk openly about why veiling yourself is so important to you that you are willing to suffer serious personal harm because of it. So bring that psychologist forward – the one who gave up her entire career because of her headscarf. Ask her to consider why non-bigoted people tasked with training psychologists might reasonably object to her bringing her spiritual praxis into the clinic. If your situation is going to get any better, you (and the other side) will have to offer some serious, good faith, give and take.

If, as I write this, you are sputtering with rage and totally refusing to engage, okay. You’ve already lost on the burqa and you’ll probably keep losing on the hijab.

Off with her headscarf!

Today the EU Court ruled that workplaces do indeed have the right to ban employees from wearing the hijab. Employers need to make a case for the mandate – strict religious neutrality among all faiths; customer contact – but private offices (several countries already ban the hijab in public work settings) may fire women who refuse to take them off. And there’s more: This blog has followed Quebec’s public sector hijab ban here. France has been making noise about banning hijabs for girls under a certain age. You get the picture.

It’s useful to keep in mind that while some hijab wearers restrict themselves to a headscarf (of the sort Queen Elizabeth wears when she’s out riding), some wearers include a cloth over the chest and a full-body robe. Their headscarf itself can come pretty close to hiding their face. I mention this because in some cases the garment truly is extreme in its religious veiling of the face and body, indistinguishable from the way American nuns used to dress. However it’s intended, it can be seen as an extremely strong – clerical, really – expression of the derogation of the secular realm. Most people and businesses have no problem with this – UD herself objects only to the burqa, not the hijab – but some do, and while tolerating it is the individual’s obligation, certain businesses with well-grounded objections may now not need to.

So the legal and legislative trend in Europe (and parts of Canada) is clearly toward constraint on the wearing of this modesty-mode; and as always UD notes that you can pant about Islamophobia and discrimination all you want but given the trend you might more wisely spend your time

  1. developing an understanding of the situation not entirely dependent on trashing massive swathes of human populations as bigoted; and
  2. considering taking off the hijab in workplaces that want you to take it off. It doesn’t help the perception that some hijab wearers are insufficiently committed to the secular state (“Secularism is a defined constitutional principle in France and Belgium. This is not the case [for instance] in the UK where the state and religion are intertwined.”) when they announce that they’ll never ever take it off ever, even for work hours. Why not? One does not read articles about men refusing to remove their yamulkes at their place of work if that’s the rule.

The Day I Came Out to Myself as a Liberal.

I’ve conservativized somewhat as I’ve aged, the way a lot of people do, but hear me out.

***********************

I was a heedless, footloose cosmopolitan, living in Paris.

Having discovered (who knew?) that a flight to Israel took only four hours, I decided, suddenly and randomly, to fly there. Randomly because I’d never been much of a Jew, nor anything like a Zionist, so my motive was curiosity, not conviction or emotion. Being a Jew meant something non-trivial to me; the identity had virtually no religious component (I was and remain pretty ignorant of Jewish texts and rituals); but, steeped in Holocaust history and art from childhood, I was enough of a member of the tribe to recognize and feel myself as part of a supremely suffering contingent.

My own story was the safer, more conventional one of grandparents who fled pogroms at the turn of the century to settle in large American cities and spawn doctors and lawyers. I had no relatives who died in concentration camps. I mean, probably I did, but I didn’t know about them. [The dead in the gas chambers] flow out in smoke from the extermination chimneys, writes Moses Herzog; and leave you in the clear light of historical success of the West. A heedless, footloose cosmopolitan with the money to live in Paris, I was that historical success.

*******************

Only a few days after touching down in Israel (the security – this was 1982 – was insane: a phone call the day before telling me to show up at DeGaulle at 3 AM rather than noon; an extensive interview when I got to Ben Gurion), I had my coming-out moment when two things happened at once. I was sitting at an outside table on a university campus (Hebrew U? Don’t remember.), reading a book I’d picked up at the airport when I arrived: Letters to an American Jewish Friend: A Zionist’s Polemic. UD recognized immediately that the author was a terrific prose stylist who put across a difficult argument eloquently, craftily, seductively, and she read each page with great interest.

As she read, she became aware of a nearby table where three women were giggling and talking loudly among themselves. Looking more closely, she took in their absolute ease in their very specific being as out-loud Jewish — deeply, rootedly, unself-consciously, un-nervously Jewish in their Jewish country. And just as the powerful polemic in favor of Zionism she was reading prompted … resistance in UD, so those women, with their enviable being-there-ness, disconcerted her, alienated her.

The promise of countries like Israel, it seemed to UD, was this tribal warmth and clarity. Belonging. But it was much more than that. Hillel Halkin, the author of the polemic, insisted that in living here, in Israel, you as a Jew were doing no less than saving the Jewish people; he spent many pages reviewing the assimilation/disappearance of Jews all over the world. Like koalas, he argued, Jews are a peculiar, specific, breed who will die out if you deprive them of the specific and quite restricted conditions they need to survive. Indeed his entire argument rested on his prediction that Diaspora Judaism will soon die out. In a 1977 review of the book, Robert Alter notes: “Halkin projects that the current American Jewish population of five million plus will be reduced by the end of the century to at most three million.”

Yet the current population of American Jews is well over six million. Some sources put it at seven million plus.

One hopes that anyone who moved to Israel on the basis of Halkin’s predictive abilities has, by 2021, evolved lots of other reasons for having done so. For there’s this, too, as Alter writes: “For [Halkin,] Orthodoxy alone has authenticity, but it is the authenticity of an anachronism, preserving itself only by averting its vision from the most imperative aspects of modernity, and so its historical fate will be gradually to fade away in the slow dawning of the Jewish secular future.” In the event, what Alter rightly calls secular Israel’s “anemic” birthrate has meant the shrinking of that population and the demographic explosion of the orthodox and ultraorthodox.

****************

Most tellingly, perhaps, Halkin at one point chides American Jews because they “lack the passion to live without contradiction,” which is to say that they seem not to want to be koalas, Jewish creatures who just like being Jewish and want to live in the one place they can chew eucalyptus leaves and be fully Jewish and nothing else. It wasn’t exactly an inspiring image to UD then, and it still fails to rock her world. She’s Blakeian; she’s Whitmanian; she’s a contradiction-maven. Cuz she was raised in a liberal democracy! She’s a … [we’re back in Israel here, at UD‘s moment of truth] liberal! Alter: “In liberal democracies … Jews are naturally drawn from their Jewish parishes to the freedom [and manifold contradictions] of the larger environment…”

In a recent interview, Adam Gopnik, who wrote a book defending liberalism from left and right attacks on it, observes that

[O]ur hunger for [collective] identity, our need for connection, is overwhelming and … liberalism [some argue] impedes it. Liberalism acts as a stopper on it. [This is Charles] Taylor’s point: We [have a] need to ask, “Where am I?” and liberalism [which is much better at giving us time and space to ask “Who am I?’] doesn’t seem to give a good answer to that.

But, Gopnik continues:

What liberals, I think, would say in response, what my liberalism would say in response, is first of all, liberalism has actually been very good at the project of making community. It’s why we live in New York. You know, I never get over the miracle of New York… A tolerant community is another kind of community. A pluralistic community is another kind of community. I delight exactly in the variety of kinds that I can find every time in New York. That’s not an absence of community. It’s a particular kind of community that we relish.

Is it, though, a community without roots, without stable collective identity, without inherited meanings, symbols, rituals?

Damn right it is.

Is a lack of meaning really worse than a lack of freedom? … What liberalism’s critics appear unable, or unwilling, to address is whether a lack of meaning is a worse problem to have than a lack of freedom.”

Maybe liberalism – “the political order that privileges non-negotiable rights, personal freedoms, and individual autonomy” – issues in some degree of conceptual confusion, and maybe even in a difficulty or refusal to commit oneself to clear philosophical/theological convictions and collectivities – but is this really so unbearable a position to be in that one’s only option is, for instance, rule by monks who think burning heretics at the stake is key to good governance?

****************

So this is the first in a series of posts attempting to clarify liberalism, the nature of my affiliation with it, the nature of the manifold attacks on it, etc. All of this has been catalyzed by the latest radical dumping on liberalism: critical race theory. Having spent years in theory-oriented English departments, UD is familiar with Foucauldian anti-liberalism, and as a strong Rortyian she has always been appalled by it. Yet she is at the same time guilty of a certain passive unreflective enjoyment/acceptance of her liberal-culture advantages, as in of course she’s not a desperate Afghan woman brandishing a gun in Ghor province hey that’s nuts it’s not even worth thinking about let’s just relax and enjoy our freedom… But always-imperiled liberal virtues must always be thought about, defended…

Ross Douthat, NYT

[T]he complex of foundations and bureaucracies that have embraced the new antiracism… increasingly play a similar role to talk radio in the Republican coalition. They represent an ideological extremism that embarrasses clever liberals, as the spirit of Limbaugh often embarrassed right-wing intellectuals. But this embarrassment encourages a pretense that their influence is modest, their excesses forgivable, and the real problem is always the evils of the other side.

That pretense worked out badly for the right, whose intelligentsia awoke in 2016 to discover that they no longer recognized their own coalition. It would be helpful if liberals currently dismissing anxiety over [the new anti-racism] as just a “moral panic” experienced a similar awakening now — before progressivism simply becomes its excesses, and the way back to sanity is closed.

Anne Applebaum…

… like Andrew Sullivan, attempts to get at the fatal disconnect between liberal culture and critical race theory.

Critical race theory is not the same thing as Marxism, but some of its more facile popularizers share with Marxists the deep conviction that their way of seeing the world is the only way worth seeing the world. Moreover, some have encouraged people to behave as if this were the only way of seeing the world. The structural racism that they have identified is real, just as the class divisions once identified by the Marxists were real. But racism is not everywhere, in every institution, or in every person’s heart at all times. More to the point, any analysis of American history or American society that sees only structural racism will misunderstand the country, and badly. It will not be able to explain why the U.S. did in fact have an Emancipation Proclamation, a Civil Rights Act, a Black president. This is a major stumbling block, not so much for the legal scholars (some of whom actually merit the title “critical race theorist”) but rather for the popularizers and the scholars-turned-activists who want to force everybody to recite the same mantras.

This is exactly what should happen to a political candidate who boasts of his indifference to the educational welfare of tens of thousands of New York City children.

UD has watched with pleasure as Andrew Yang’s mayoral bid tanks. In a just political universe, you don’t brag that you’ll let cultists keep their children in ignorance, placing the burden of their support as lifetime unemployables on the New York taxpayer, without paying a heavy price. Good on you, NYC.

Couple this with events in Israel, and hey.

But hold onto your hat. Expect, in both cities, ultraorthodox riots. They’ll be really, really bad in Israel.

“Have you followed the news out of Czechia?” asked Mr UD this morning…

… as we ate breakfast while staring out the window at the hummingbirds who have found our crop of bee balm.

“Horrid terrorists. No.”

“Not Chechnya. Czechia.”

“Is that… the latest name for Czechoslovakia, the Czech Republic, etc.?”

“Yes.”

“Should I … ha-ha … czech it out?”

“Check out their Pirate Party. They might actually win the next election.”

“With a name like Pirate Party? Wow.”

So UD checked them out.

**********************

All members of the Pirate Party look like extras on the set of Easy Rider. (There is a tradition of this.) Except for their leader, who looks like Bo Derek. They are very cool, very anti-corruption, very personal liberty. When the current government refused to thank Taiwan for donating anti-covid medical supplies (wouldn’t want to offend China), the Pirate Party put up an enormous THANK YOU TAIWAN image during an anti-corruption rally.

‘[W]hile Trump is an extreme manifestation, his authoritarian impulses are not purely idiosyncratic. Skepticism of democracy as a value has deep roots in conservative thought. While conservative parties in other countries accommodate[d] themselves to democratic control over the economy generations ago, the American right has never relinquished its belief that allowing majorities to redistribute income at the ballot box is a fundamental violation of liberty… [W]hen Trump disappears from the scene, the authoritarian threat will not.’

A reminder, from Jonathan Chait, that those of us fond of liberty need to rev our eternal vigilance engines.

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