It’s hard to be patient with Timothy Garton-Ash. Old Socialist makes his way through his ‘The future of liberalism’

The first two paragraphs on Mr. Garton-Ash’s essay are …

Writers have interpreted the failings of liberalism in different ways; the point, however, is to change it. Self-criticism is a liberal strength. The very fact that there are already so many books diagnosing the death of liberalism proves that liberalism is still alive. But now we must move from analysis to prescription.

This is urgent. The victory of Joe Biden in the US presidential election gives a fragile opening for liberal renewal, but more than 70m Americans voted for Donald Trump. In Britain, a populist Conservative government faces a Labour Party with a new, left-liberal leader, Keir Starmer. In France, Marine Le Pen remains a serious threat to Europe’s leading liberal renewer, Emmanuel Macron. In Hungary, the EU has an increasingly illiberal and undemocratic member state. The likely economic consequences of the pandemic—unemployment, insecurity, soaring public debt and perhaps inflation—will probably feed a second wave of populism. China, already a superpower, is emerging strengthened from the crisis. Its model of developmental authoritarianism is challenging liberal democratic capitalism. For the first time this century, among countries with more than one million people, there are now fewer democracies than there are non-democratic regimes.

Mr. Garton-Ash presents what ‘writers’ have offered about the failings of Liberalism, and that Liberalism’s strength is its ability to engage in self-criticism, that precedes ‘renewal’. And that the diagnosis of ‘books ,on Liberalism’s demise proves that Liberalism is still alive. This diagnosis offered by ‘writers’ and ‘books’ are unidentified except in the broadest, most amorphous terms. Liberalism is able to engage in ‘self-criticism’: in Mr. Garton Ash’s telling ‘Liberalism’ is transformed into a volitional being. The other actors in this part of his essay:

Joe Biden as the instrument of ‘renewal’.

Keir Starmer as ‘a new, left-liberal leader

Marine Le Pen as ‘a serious threat to Europe’s leading liberal renewer, Emmanuel Macron.

Hungary as ‘the EU has an increasingly illiberal and undemocratic member state

China ‘already a superpower, is emerging strengthened from the crisis.

This cast of political actors is followed by this statements: ‘there are now fewer democracies than there are non-democratic regimes.

Some clarification:

Joe Biden is a Neo-Liberal, in sum, a New Democrat of the Clinton Era.

Kier Starmer is a New Labour and a ‘reformer’ against Jeremy Corbyn’s return to Left-Wing Social Democracy

Le Pen & Macron, who confronts the ongoing Rebellion in France, unreported in the corrupt bourgeoise press.

Hungary- After a long and utterly failed trans-generational experiment with Neo-Liberalism, Populists took over the remains of a Free Market Economy.

See Philipp Ther’s Europe Since 1989: a history‘ Chapters 4 & 5 for the devastating effects of Neo-Liberalism in Eastern Europe:

China- This state became the manufacturing hub of American Multinationals, seeking an exploitable work-force: its called off-shoring to increase obscene profits for the latest electronic trinkets.

Mr. Garton-Ash then adopts a poetic metaphor :

Like Neptune’s trident, a renewed liberalism will have three prongs. The first is the defence of traditional liberal values and institutions, such as free speech and an independent judiciary, against threats from both populists and outright authoritarians.

The second prong almost embraces Piketty’s Capitalist Critique?

The second is to address the major failings of what passed for liberalism over the last 30 years—a one-dimensional economic liberalism, at worst a dogmatic market fundamentalism that had as little purchase on human reality as the dogmas of dialectical materialism or papal infallibility. These failings have driven millions of voters to the populists. We must, then, be tough on populism and tough on the causes of populism. 

The third prong of the renewed Liberalism:

The third prong requires us to meet, by liberal means, the daunting global challenges of our era, including climate change, pandemics and the rise of China. So our new liberalism has to look both backward and forward, inward and outward.

Pay particular attention to ‘the rise of China‘ as part of ‘the daunting global challenges of our era‘! The Yellow Peril , in its various iterations and permutations is a standard Western trope!

Carefully camouflaged in his further explanation of his ‘three prongs’ is this example of barbarism in France.

The barbaric beheading of a French teacher outside Paris reminds us that, even in the oldest liberal societies, free speech has to contend with not only the heckler’s but now also the assassin’s veto. 

The reader need only look at the inherent barbarism, that existed in France in 1961?

The Paris massacre that time forgot, 51 years on

The photographic archive:

For an illuminating History of ‘Liberalism’ see

And a history of The Economist , the leading ‘Liberal’ newspaper :

Mr. Garton-Ash divides his essay into eight parts. I will offer quotations from his essay and comments on each section:

No liberalism without liberty:

The featured players:

‘Liberalism is, in Judith Shklar’s illuminating formulation, a “tradition of traditions.” There is an extended family of historical practices, ideological clusters and philosophical writings that may legitimately be called liberal. All share a core commitment to individual liberty. (Only in the weird semantic universe of contemporary American politics could it appear possible to separate liberalism from liberty.) Beyond this, as John Gray has argued, liberalism includes elements of individualism, meliorism, egalitarianism and universalism. These ingredients, however, appear in widely varying definitions, proportions and combinations.

In his opening paragraph he presents Shklar’s ‘tradition of traditions’ and John Grey’s collection of the ‘elements’ of Liberalism: in Shklar’s vision it is an agglomeration of capacious constituents. And in Grey’s case more of the ‘elements’ favored by Shklar. The five paragraphs of this section, of his essay, are a potted self-serving history of the ‘evolution of Liberalism’. With the addition of current ‘bad political actors’ added to enliven his polemic.

Equality and solidarity

A crucial staircase up from the floor is education. The expansion of university education was intended by mid-20th century liberals to augment life chances and social mobility, yet now the great American universities increasingly look like another means for existing elites to perpetuate their ascendancy. Leading US colleges regularly admit more students from the top 1 per cent of households by income than they do from the bottom 60 per cent. The Economist has coined the term “hereditary meritocracy” to describe this self-perpetuating new class. Universities like the two in which I am privileged to work therefore bear a major responsibility to widen access, but they cannot achieve social mobility on their own. We also need high-quality state schooling for all, from the crucial early years up, better vocational education and, amid a digital revolution, lifelong learning.

The featured players:

Philosopher Pierre Hassner, Leszek Kołakowski, ‘dramatic growth in inequality’, Ralf Dahrendorf , Milton Friedman, Oxford University, ‘expansion of university education’, The Economist , “hereditary meritocracy” . More riffing on Piketty? Or is it more argumentative Velveeta?

Redistributing respect

The players:

‘disparity of esteem’, ‘liberal elites’, East Germany, Ronald Dworkin,  ‘liberal political community’, ‘equal respect and concern’, ‘metropolitan liberals’, ‘US rustbelt’, ‘neglected communities of northern England’,  ‘taxi-loads of metropolitan journalists’, ‘Yorkshire coalfields’, ‘Appalachian mountains’, Martha Nussbaum ,  “curious and sympathetic” imagination , “recognise humanity in strange costumes” , Charles Dickens’s Bleak House, ‘imaginative sympathy underpins is solidarity’.

Call this collection just a brief and selective resume of the sins, and the victims of The Neo-Liberal Swindle!

Checking the “liberalocracy”

The players:

“levelling up.” ,  super-rich, globalisation, “comfortably off”, middle-class, Extreme inequality, “hereditary meritocracy.”, concentration of power, Anglo-American liberalism, “revolving door”,  “golden rule” , grotesquely distorting power of money, Rupert Murdoch, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Clintons, Tony Blair, Friedmanites and Hayekians,, Stephen Schwarzman, Financial Times, Mike Corbat, Citigroup, Jamie Dimon, JP Morgan Chase, John Stuart Mill, “stakeholder capitalism”,  left-wing radical, Thomas Mann, Little Dorrit, Merdle.

In this collection of political actors, the reader needs to make note of Mr. Garton-Ash’s praise for Soros : ‘Yes, some rich and powerful individuals, such as George Soros, have truly earned our respect.’ Ass-kissing sycophants for the Plutocracy is another name for The Hoover Institution.


Identity and community

The players:

‘community and identity’, cosmopolitan liberals,  “the international community,”,  diverse minorities, multiculturalists, “white identity politics” , Trump and his ilk, Hillary Clinton, “the basket of deplorables.”,  post-1989 globalisation and liberalisation, Karl Marx, Communist Manifesto,  Joachim Gauck, zielwahrende Entschleunigung (goal-preserving deceleration,

Note the final framing, of this section of his essay, a painting by Eugène Delacroix – La liberté guidant le peuple . With the respectable bourgeoise notion of Gauck’s ‘goal preserving declaration’ -Note that the 37 million Refugees the product of America’s Wars of Empire is avoided at all costs by Garton-Ash! So much for the mythology of ‘Liberal Renewal’ that he advocates as a somehow!

The state-nation

The players:

uncomfortable territory for contemporary liberals, the stubborn persistence of nations, “internationalism versus the nation,”, Scruton , European liberals in 1848,  Covid pandemic, “liberalism for the liberals, cannibalism for the cannibals”, Martin Hollis, “identity politics,”, Feminism, Mill, George Eliot, “either/or”, “as-well-as-and”

These players followed his vision of a ‘Declaration of Liberal Faith’ offered as an alternative to the utterly toxic ‘identity politics’ of the multiculturalists?

Ours will therefore be an inclusive, liberal patriotism, capacious and sympathetically imaginative enough to embrace citizens with multiple identities. Membership of the nation is defined in civic, not ethnic or völkisch terms; this is not a nation-state, in a narrow sense, but an état-nation, a state-nation. Such an open, positive, warm-hearted version of the nation is capable of appealing not just to dry reason but also to the deep human need for belonging and the moral imperative of solidarity. While the coronavirus pandemic initially triggered a bout of national self-isolation, it has also showed us the best in community spirit and patriotic solidarity. Liberal patriotism is an essential ingredient of a renewed liberalism.

The challenge of the global

The players:

globalised financialised capitalism, territorially bounded, liberal democratic state-nation, What do liberals have to offer most of humankind, a moral question and a very practical one, John Gray,  John Stuart Mill, East India Company, Western universalism, violent conquest, torture, genocide, slavery, highest ideals of liberty, civilisation and enlightenment, colonial oppression, Afghanistan, Libya and Iraq, Kosovo or Sierra Leone, abandon the universalist aspiration, a postcolonial openness, the west’s declining relative power, for a new liberalism, since 1945,predominance of western power, China, which is already a superpower, China’s unprecedented Leninist-capitalist version of developmental authoritarianism, an alternative path to modernity, the defining threat of the Anthropocene era: climate change, the Global North, to show them they are wrong,  Global South, Paul Collier argues that limiting immigration can actually benefit the societies from which immigrants come, that large majority of humankind, these global challenges, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Again no mention of America’s Wars of Empire, and its 37 million refugees! Conquest and subjugation of the lesser beings of the planet is central to the rehabilitation of the Liberal Mythology. Mr. Garton-Ash political/moral blindness …

Towards a new liberalism

The players:

Arnold Ruge, entitled “Self-Criticism of Liberalism.” It was published in 1843, FDR’s New Deal, Now we need a new “new liberalism.”, I do not pretend to elaborate a normative theory.’, It strayed too far from Karl Popper’s “piecemeal engineering.”, This new liberalism will be stalwart in the defence of liberal essentials, It will be experimental, proceeding by trial and error, This new liberalism will remain universalist, This new liberalism will remain egalitarian, historically informed meliorism, hope for a human civilisation,

For the patient reader of Mr. Garton -Ash, in both his Descriptive and Prescriptive rhetorical modes, at some points intertwined, and at others nearly free-floating: he has the particular talent of collecting clichés and catch phrases. Admittedly I have written a polemic, that features a not completely arbitrary collection of these self-serving rhetorical beings. Yet Mr. Garton-Ash’s concluding paragraphs, in a way, or even a perhaps, vindicates my exercise in polemics?   

Speaking only for myself, I hope I will then go down with the good ship Liberty, working the pumps in the engine room as we try to keep her afloat. But as I breathe my last mouthful of salty water—glug, glug—I shall find consolation in reflecting on one last, peculiar quality of Liberty. Some time after the ship seems to have sunk to the bottom, it comes back up again. Odder still: it acquires the buoyancy to refloat precisely through sinking. It is no accident that the most passionate voices for freedom come to us, like the prisoners’ chorus in Beethoven’s Fidelio, from among the unfree.

For liberty is like health—you value it most when you have lost it. The better way forward, however, for free societies as for individuals, is to stay healthy.

The future of liberalism

Old Socialist

About stephenkmacksd

Rootless cosmopolitan,down at heels intellectual;would be writer. 'Polemic is a discourse of conflict, whose effect depends on a delicate balance between the requirements of truth and the enticements of anger, the duty to argue and the zest to inflame. Its rhetoric allows, even enforces, a certain figurative licence. Like epitaphs in Johnson’s adage, it is not under oath.'
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