I embrace the idea that we humans never know the truth in any direct way, and that all we have is provisional "interpretations". But some interpretations are better than others because there is a Good that those interpretations bear a closer or more distant relationship to. I know that this is not how moderns think, but I'm trying to make the case that we are no longer moderns and that our thinking remains modern merely by force of habit, because something better has not yet been proposed. I see the breakdown in modern habits of mind as an opportunity to recover important elements of Western thinking that have been forgotten or mistakenly rejected because of the materialist or uber-rationalist biases of modern habits of thought.
Those biases are gradually losing their hold on the mainstream culture, and the crisis in political Liberalism is closely related to the diminishing influence of those biases in our common imaginary. Right wing sub-rationality is having a field day because there is no robust opposition to it. I think that right-wing sub-rationalism is attractive to even thoughtful moderates because the stench of the decaying corpse of Liberalism is repugnant, and average Americans will naturally choose the alternative that has vitality. At least the Right has a pulse. It may or may not have its facts straight, but who cares? Liberals stand for no deeply grounded principles one can care deeply about. They seem to be all about expediency, and because there is nothing they will go to the mat for, the so-called reasonableness of Liberalism doesn't stand a chance against the passionate intensity of the right. Ideas matter, but they are useless unless they touch the heart, stimulate the imagination, and motivate action.
So my argument here is that Liberalism is dangerous, not because of what it affirms, which within its limitations is unobjectionable, but because of what it cannot affirm--a plausible, philosophy of history or an ontological narrative of history grounded in supra-rational ideals that would inspire and give direction to progressive action. Liberalism as a mindset has no sense of its future possibility. It is dangerous because it creates a vacuum that is otherwise filled by more primitive passions. The bourgeois Enlightenment progressive narrative embraced and shaped to a large degree by a guy like Benjamin Franklin no longer inspires; neither does revolutionary fervor excited by Marxist eschatology. Because there is no inspiring alternative narrative to motivate the Left, the Right has an open field in which to run. The passionate intensity of the Right remains ascendant until it is countered by an alternative that is emotionally and spiritually robust enough to challenge it.
That's enough on this for now, but I want to explore this theme in some depth. I'm hoping that there are others out there who are like me who want to think about this, too--people who support Liberalism in the political sphere even though they reject it in the cultural sphere, the sphere of thought and of deeply felt value. We support it as a bulwark against the dark sub-rationalism of the Right in the hopes of buying time until a compelling supra-rational imagination of future possibility might take hold. The heroes of supra-rational inspiration to which I would point are Gandhi, King, Mandela. Nothing short of that kind of inspiration will get us out of this mess. I certainly don't have definitive answers or an alternative vision that would even begin to be widely embraced, but I do have some ideas that I would like to use this blog to think out loud about. In coming weeks, I'll be writing posts entitled "Ideas Matter III, IV, etc.