Monday, March 19, 2012
Sam Harris, Islam, and Liberalism
Spring break! Time enough to post something! (Even if it is just a post about someone else's blogpost.)
Sam Harris has an excellent short essay on Islam vs. Liberalism, certainly worth reading. In it he discusses, with his usual refreshing frankness, the anti-liberal and often homicidal tendencies that infect so much of Islam and the immoral and crazy defenses of it from the politically correct left. Apparently he's something of a target for attacks from the PC diversity crowd as a result, leading him to lament he feels "liberalism is simply doomed."
He's confused -- the craziness and malignance of the PC left is not a sign of a problem within liberalism. Harris repeatedly makes the error of assuming that modern progressives are liberals. They are not, and their intellectual ancestry is not liberal. They're not the descendants of John Locke, Adam Smith, Thomas Jefferson, John Stuart Mill, Carl Menger, Ludwig von Mises, and other genuine liberals. In the utterly incoherent political taxonomy employed in the United States the PC left is called "liberal," but it isn't liberal and never has been. The real liberals were always about primacy of the individual, the liberty of the individual, understood that coercion and unreason are the fundamental threats against that liberty, and saw the institutionalized sources of coercion -- especially the state -- as dangerous things to be carefully constrained and limited. Try finding any of that in the modern counterfeit liberalism. You can't. (It's not in conservatism, either.)
The threat to liberalism in this case is that liberalism has been abandoned by intellectuals some time ago, in favor of some alleged "higher" value -- the good of the state, the proletariat, society, God, whatever. The illiberal intellectual, of whatever political stripe, assumes s/he has special insight for the rest of us how we should be constrained and limited in order to further these alleged higher values. The bizarre thing about the diversity PC version of illiberalism is that it refuses to choose among the phony "higher values" to which individuals are to be sacrificed: so long as there is a substantial religious or cultural tradition (preferably not one's own) it is to be carefully protected and defended, no matter how ridiculous or monstrous.
This confusion over liberalism isn't crucial to Harris' essay, which is a nice rebuttal of Islam and the crazy PC defenses of it.
I'm much more upbeat about the future of liberalism -- maybe not in the United States, or in the west, where it is actively opposed by "liberals" and conservatives alike -- but liberalism, real liberalism meets a human need that is not going to die because of cranky ideologies and religions.
Postscript: I'm slowly working my way through Harris' book The Moral Landscape, and at some point will post a substantive review of it. It's an extremely important book, and his arguments deserve very careful thought.