Thursday, September 15, 2011

Liberalism and Anti-Semitism

Ruth Wisse wrote, in a specific context to be sure, “Anti-Semitism perverts the ideal of a mutually tolerant campus. The faculty and administration, and students who wish to uphold that ideal, will have to exercise their free speech to address the function and the roots of this virulent phenomenon.”

What she wrote gets at what I'm trying to suggest.

As usual, things come down to needing to start with some defining. Liberalism is distinguishable from left wing/liberal and progressive politics. It’s a political philosophy and a way of thinking about the world and as the latter it’s in part procedural, a rational methodology exemplifed by how science tries to proceed.

Liberalism is exemplified by America’s creedal liberties, by a commitment to the ideals of equality (better understood as equality of opportunity) and liberty, even as the inevitable clash between the two creates problems and tensions and by a habit of mind that, in the words of Alexander Meiklejohn, himself a bastion of civil liberties, believes and doubts, that “…indicates a pattern of culture which criticizes itself... It has customs and standards of behaviour. But it also has...the attitude of...questioning its own dominant beliefs and standards... The liberal both believes and doubts...and... if an individual or a group will hold fast both to custom and intelligence, then its experience will inevitably be paradoxical and divided against itself. The being who seeks intelligence is a divided personality.”

So understood, neither anti-Semite, nor any other like hater, can, I’d argue, truly wear liberalism’s mantle even though he might believe otherwise. In his hating, in his deep-going biases, he repudiates the fundamental precepts he imagines define him.

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