Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Culture news: Intolerance as Illiberalism

Kim Holmes has written a perceptive piece that looks at the current state of intolerance and its basis in illiberalism.  She examines the 1960's origin of illiberalism and how it shapes public discourse today.  Holmes writes about the generation of the era that is now in power:

Because of their influence, traditional American liberalism has changed in three important ways.
The first change involves the understanding of tolerance. The old Jeffersonian notion, rooted in debates over religious freedom, holds that individual conscience is sacrosanct. This has given way to the notion that certain ideas (e.g., racism or sexism) are so heinous that no one should be allowed to hold, much less express, any idea about race or women or sexuality that proponents believe is socially oppressive. In other words, intolerance is now seen as a good thing—if it serves the purpose of a certain definition of social liberation.

The second change involves the idea of dissent. Historically, respect for dissent had its roots in debates over religious freedom and freedom of conscience. But the New Left took an entirely different view of dissent. Rather than an expression of individual conscience, dissent was now seen as a weapon to overthrow the old order. The end justified the means. It was perfectly justifiable, according to the New Left, to shut out the views of the ruling class, defined now along race, gender, and sexual orientation lines.

The third idea that has undergone a radical change is our conception of virtue. Historically, virtue has been understood as a positive habit that forms one’s personal character. In this view, one acquires virtue by repeatedly choosing to treat others well and act in accord with objective standards of morality, even when it is difficult. The Counter-Culture understood virtue very differently. The “self” was not something that had to be restrained; it was unique and had to be expressed openly, even loudly, to be fulfilled. Individual freedom was to be experienced through the liberation of one’s group (i.e., one’s gender, race, or sexual identity). Traditional morality—particularly sexual morality—became a force of repression just as capitalism had been in the days of the Old Left. Virtue was politicized and defined ideologically; it was not seen as a measure of personal responsibility or as a right of individual conscience but as a measure of the collective good the government is supposed to guarantee.

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