The following essay by Alexander Grau discusses the strange metamorphosis of liberal political philosophy into its opposite. JLH, who translated the piece, includes this note:
This scholar seems to make a good point, but he is so caught up in the maze of academic terminology which tries to come to grips with lofty ideas like liberalism that he fails to see the actual handwriting on the wall — these are not “hyper-liberals” he is describing; they are the minions of the Left, including the ’68ers and their Antifa shock troops.
The translated essay from the monthly German magazine Cicero:
How Liberalism is Destroying Freedom
by Alexander Grau
April 21, 2018
Freedom, it seems, is increasingly the freedom of those who think alike. In the name of the most profound liberal values such as tolerance and freedom of expression, intolerance seems to be growing and increasingly constricting freedom of expression and artistic freedom. Briefly, three examples from recent times: a poem by Eugen Gomringer that allegedly reproduces patriarchal structures and must therefore disappear; the monograph by Rolf Peter Sieferle that first disappeared from the bestseller list and is now disappearing from bookstore shelves; Uwe Tellkamp, who has complained of a “corridor of opinion” and is now being punished in the magazines. The list could be longer.
Freedom is Endangered by its Proponents
It is absurd. Freedom today is under threat, not only by its enemies, but by its declared supporters. People preach tolerance but tolerate only their own opinion; declare themselves open, but punish anything that does not fit their world image. And anyone who argues against them is accused of taking on the role of victim. It is a hermetically sealed thought bubble. It almost seems that liberalism is being destroyed by its own success.
The main concern of classic liberalism is the protection of the individual. Thus freedom is defined as the absence of compulsion. In an equally famous and unfortunate formulation, Isaiah Berlin called this form of freedom “negative freedom.” There is nothing negative in this freedom. Only the person free of compulsion is free.
The Missionary Strain of Liberalism
Accordingly, traditional forms of liberalism concentrate on eliminating paternalism and external control. That is the unifying cord of economic and constitutional liberalism. At its core, liberalism is also an anti-ideology which protects the individual against attacks on his autonomy in the name of traditional ideals.
Besides that, since at least the bourgeois revolutions of the18th century, there have been aggressive, missionary-like tendencies in the liberal tradition. The reasons for that are to be found in the logic of liberalism itself. If freedom of the individual is the standard, isn’t it natural to protect the individual from more than just physical coercion? Aren’t there hidden coercions? Perhaps inscribed in social power relations, cultural traditions and social structures? And is it not a liberal tendency to liberate people from these things too?
Hypo-Liberalism With Fallacies
It was not mistaken thinking. Naturally, there are power structures, economic or social, that have a repressive character. And so there developed in the conditions of the modern welfare society what the British philosopher John N. Gray, writing in the Times Literary Supplement, recently called hyper-liberalism — an overblown, radical form of liberalism, an “illiberal liberalism,” which perverts the original liberal tendency into its opposite. Freedom is curtailed in the name freedom and democracy is restricted for the sake of democracy.
The fallacy of hyper-liberalism is similarly banal. Not all perceived repressions are real and not every sensitivity must be accepted by the community or indeed the constitutional state. Ultimately, people are not alike, and equity can only be achieved at the cost of a lack of freedom. For liberals, that is no option. Wanting to make everyone equal would lead to depriving the individual of his individuality in the name of individualism.
Moral Superiority Justifies Any Means
But hyper-liberals are not disconcerted by these arguments. For them, liberalism is not an anti-ideology, but a substantial philosophy whose alleged moral superiority justifies anti-liberal methods to achieve its goals: from book boycotts to personal vilification.
What has happened in recent months — not just in this country — is alarming. Sometimes you get the impression that you would have to rescue freedom from liberalism But liberalism, properly understood, is too worthwhile an idea to be left to paternalistic ideologues and zealous missionaries.
|1.||The 1951 poem avenidas by Gomringer, who won the Alice Salomon Poetry Prize in 2011. In recognition of the award, this poem was painted on the wall of the Alice Salomon College. Translated from the Spanish, it says:
“Avenues / Avenues and flowers / Flowers / Flowers and women / Avenues / Avenues and women / Avenues and flowers and women and an admirer.”
|2.||Finis Germania, translated earlier at GoV.|
|3.||Wrote The Tower, describing life in 1980s East Germany.