Liberalism, it seems, should come with a warning label: Use with extreme caution. Product will destroy your society.
The prevailing theory of morality in the United States today, especially among the younger generation, but by no means limited to the younger generation, is a theory that may be called Moral Liberalism. This theory comprises two principles: (1) the Personal Liberty Principle, according to which all conduct is morally permissible, provided it does no harm to non-consenting others; and (2) the Tolerance Principle, according to which we are obliged to tolerate the behavior of others, provided it does no harm to non-consenting others.
Moral Liberalism may sound innocuous enough; it may even sound vaguely admirable, based as it is on respect for personal autonomy.1 But Mr. Carlin begs us to consider the consequences:
This theory has been used over the past half-century to justify many forms of conduct that used to be considered immoral – for example, premarital sex, unmarried cohabitation, having babies out of wedlock, abortion, homosexuality, same-sex marriage, and physician-assisted suicide.
Carlin then presents for our further consideration a basket of deplorables (including polygamy, incest, bestiality, suicide, duels to the death, and human sacrifice) which he says are logically permitted (if not yet legally allowed) by Moral Liberalism. While he cautions “I don’t mean to say that Moral Liberalism will actually lead to these forms of conduct,” he ends on this ominous note:
My aim is to point out three things: (1) that these developments can happen, and logically should happen, in a society that embraces Moral Liberalism; (2) that Moral Liberalism is an absurd moral theory, given that these consequences logically flow from it; and (3) that a society that embraces an absurd moral theory will, if it doesn’t soon renounce that theory, destroy itself.
For his part, Peter Leithart chides liberalism’s political failures, which are of course directly related to its moral theories:
Contemporary political culture is the product of a convergence of two strains of liberalism: a leftist cultural libertarianism that took off during the 1960s and 1970s, and a rightwing free-market liberalism that reached its apogee with the Reagan-Thatcher alliance…Though they come from opposite ends of the political spectrum, both strains of liberalism are founded on a concept of freedom as the emancipation of individual choice.
While David Carlin calls liberalism “absurd,” Mr. Leithart sees it as fundamentally totalitarian:
Are gay marriage and legalized abortion deviations from American values, or expressions of them? Can we disentangle the two strains of liberalism? Can we defend free markets without endorsing free love? What does “freedom” mean? Since it cannot acknowledge any good beyond itself without ceasing to be liberal, liberalism inevitably becomes the measure of everything. Can our double liberalism elude the totalitarian logic at its heart? Can liberalism tolerate pockets of illiberalism, communities that deliberately renounce the ideology of absolute free choice? Or will everyone everywhere be forced to conform? 2
Leithart pins his hopes, qualified though they are, on the “human Molotov cocktail” [Michael Moore’s phrase] that is Donald Trump. The damage Mr. Trump might do has been vastly exaggerated, says Leithart; more importantly, “The Trump cocktail might yet blow open a serious discussion of a politics beyond liberalism.”
Which is to say that, from Leithart’s perspective and given the disastrous consequences and implications of liberalism: it may just be necessary to destroy this village in order to save it.
1 What, you may ask, is the alternative to a moral regime based on individual autonomy? As any good Catholic can tell you, the alternative is a regime based on obedience to divinely-appointed and divinely-guided authorities: i.e. the Church, the Scriptures, and Natural Law. When Jesus said, I am the Truth, and the Truth shall set you free, he meant “free” from sin and death and “free” to obey. All other so-called “freedom,” according to this view, is illusory at best and can only lead to perdition both for individuals and for entire societies.
2 Leithart highlights a contradiction of which liberals themselves are aware: can we (must we) tolerate intolerance, and if so, won't our tolerance thereby undermine itself? On the other hand, a moral/political regime premised on obedience to revealed Truth faces its own dilemma: how is Error to be dealt with? Should it be silenced, banished, or somehow extirpated? These are not idle questions; it was, after all, Pope Pius IX, in his denunciation of modernity, who insisted "Error has no rights," a phrase (and a mindset) that conservatives such as Leithart, Carlin, and Rod Dreher now ascribe to the "intolerant" Left without ever acknowledging its actual origin.