T.S. Eliot wrote his Idea of a Christian Society as World War II was beginning.
It was a time when many were questioning whether liberal democratic societies had any future. Fascism and Communism seemed the vital new movements that had the upper hand. The gist of Eliot’s argument is that modern liberalism is a largely negative project, one that pushes back against the constraining forms of traditional life to make room for the individual to live more freely. He does not reject liberalism, but Eliot thinks it incapable of providing an enduring basis for society. We’re social animals, and there needs to be a binding power at the basis of any society, not a loosening, freeing one. When liberalism tries to become the basis for society, it paradoxically can create the conditions for tyranny. As Eliot observes, “By destroying traditional social habits of the people, by dissolving their natural collective consciousness into individual constituents, by licensing the opinions of the most foolish, by substituting instruction for education, by encouraging cleverness rather than wisdom, the upstart rather than the qualified, by fostering a notion of getting on to which the alternative is hopeless apathy, Liberalism can prepare the way for that which is its own negation: the artificial, mechanized or brutalized control which is a desperate remedy for its chaos.”
It is increasingly evident that Eliot was right ….
(R.R. Reno, Eliot and Liberalism, 1/4/16, emphasis added)
Reno went on to note the signs that Eliot was right. We’ve added more such signs since then — exponentially more if one takes President Trump’s Tweets and other ejaculations as expressions of authoritarianism rather than the ramblings of a compulsive bullshitter.
Ryszard Legutko, a Polish dissident under Communism, thinks Communism and Liberal Democracy aren’t all that different:
Both are utopian and look forward to “an end of history” where their systems will prevail as a permanent status quo. Both are historicist and insist that history is inevitably moving in their directions. Both therefore require that all social institutions—family, churches, private associations—must conform to liberal-democratic rules in their internal functioning. Because that is not so at present, both are devoted to social engineering to bring about this transformation. And because such engineering is naturally resisted, albeit slowly and in a confused way, both are engaged in a never-ending struggle against enemies of society (superstition, tradition, the past, intolerance, racism, xenophobia, bigotry, etc., etc.) In short, like Marxism before it, liberal democracy is becoming an all-encompassing ideology that, behind a veil of tolerance, brooks little or no disagreement.
In the latter, policy is determined both by electoral majorities in accountable bodies and by a range of nonaccountable institutions such as courts that make laws rather than interpret them, transnational institutions such as the EU, UN treaty-monitoring bodies, and domestic bureaucracies with wide regulatory powers under delegated legislation. Increasingly, power has drained from elected bodies to courts and other nonaccountable institutions, the former have lost confidence, and the latter have become bolder, not merely restraining the majority but also dictating law and policy.
(The Demon in Democracy: Totalitarian Temptations in Free Societies, Kindle locations 76 and 98)
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“Liberal education is concerned with the souls of men, and therefore has little or no use for machines … [it] consists in learning to listen to still and small voices and therefore in becoming deaf to loudspeakers.” (Leo Strauss)
There is no epistemological Switzerland. (Via Mars Hill Audio Journal Volume 134)