Monday, December 31, 2012

Why Do Conservatives Want to Tell Liberals How to Be Liberal?

My title is a reaction to Walter Russel Mead's The Once and Future Liberalism, one of David Brooks' Sidney Award winners.  I found the style of Mead's piece pompous - he tells us what American's want, though I'm an American and I want none of that - and I think the characterizations on first principles are wrong in what Mead describes - the necessary role of the state to regulate and coordinate but individual liberty as otherwise the primary objective.  That is a conservative conception, not a liberal one.  The liberal conception is based on national bond and social obligation.  The primacy of individual liberty is simply not there in the liberal view.  The primacy is on the social good.  I wrote a long essay on the topic this summer, where I asked whether the principles of Progressivism circa 1910, as formulated by Herbert Croly or Albion Small, could serve as the basis for a twenty first century view, although the key issues now are quite different than they were during the trust busting period. I believe the answer is yes and it is the direction in which liberals should head.  Instead, we have Brooks dignifying Mead's pablum. 

I suppose I have only myself to blame for being angry at this piece, instead of simply ignoring it.  About six months ago I posted that I was taking a sabbatical from David Brooks, precisely because too many of his pieces are of the same tone as Mead's essay.  In previous years I have enjoyed the Sidney award pieces - provocative essays on topics I don't confront the rest of the year.  There are a few essays among this year's winners that I found in that category - one about treating schizophrenia and the limitations of drug therapy, another about a many wrongly convicted for having murdered his wife and spending 25 years in prison are two that come to mind.  But when it comes to national politics, I need to steer clear of reading Brooks or following his recommendations for other reading.

Having made the same mistake twice, I hope I don't make it a third time. 

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