The Great Liberal Experiment Is Dying

By John Horvat II | August 21, 2017 | 3:21pm EDT
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Conservatives are frustrated by the present state of affairs. The politicians we have brought to power time and time again cannot get things done. Gridlock reigns in the halls of Congress, and it is not going away anytime soon.

There is plenty of blame to spread around.

Blame the political establishment that must be cleaned out and something else must be established (another establishment) in its place. Blame moneyed interests of the financial sector that are only looking after themselves. Blame military strategists are putting America into conflicts not in the nation’s interest. Blame immoral players supporting abortion, same-sex “marriage” and now transgenderism that subvert the value voters’ platform. Blame irreligious players that ignore God and His law. 

The Futility of Politics

All of them deserve some of the blame. But that is no reason to join the liberal media in declaring (once more!) that the conservative movement is dead. Never mind the fact that the same liberal media will never declare the death of its progressive movement—even after one of its greatest defeats in generations.

Yet it is hard not to be cynical in face of the evidence. We are tempted to think that politics is an exercise in futility. The whole system is rotten and cannot be fixed. There are even those who say America herself is evil and should be opposed. In a post-Christian America, we are told there is no sense in carrying on. It is every man for himself.

The Failure of the Liberal Experiment

Such thinking is wrong. The scenario mentioned above undeniably has elements of truth. The conservative movement is indeed in crisis, as is the progressive movement. The various factions are pulling everything apart.

However, we should not mistake the turmoil inside the movement with a much broader social phenomenon now shaking liberals and conservatives alike. What is happening is much more profound than a crisis inside a political party and its corresponding segments.

Many social commentators have already said it: The great liberal experiment is dying. The ideal that markets and liberal democracy alone would resolve all our problems in a system that remains morally neutral can no longer be maintained. Individualism, a vital component of this experiment, has reached the supreme point that there is no longer enough agreement to form the consensus that acted like glue over so many generations. In place of a pursuit of happiness, we find a regime of discontent and depression that mocks modern society.

Not only is liberalism in crisis but the unacknowledged Christian principles that have long sustained the nation are exhausted. The building blocks of the family are shattered and structurally unsound. Present law has strayed so far from an objective natural law that it now permits the gratifications of people’s worst passions. People can’t even agree on who they are as they self-identify as whatever they want to be. A totalitarian wave of “tolerance” is sweeping over the land threatening anyone who dares to assert that the truth exists.

“Things fall apart; the center cannot hold,” wrote Yeats. This is not just a problem of mere decadence. It’s beyond that. The experiment is falling apart. The central guiding principles of liberalism are not holding. The Christian pillars are shaken. This is what needs to be addressed.

Does that mean that it is over?

A Post Liberal Debate

No, it means a great debate will be beginning. We are not faced with a post-Christian society for it has long been “post,” but a post-liberal society that is no longer liberal.  It will occur because there is little left for conservatives to conserve. And liberals, by their slavery to their passions, will have taken away the liberty of those who call for order.

The debate will not revolve around the rotten fruits of liberalism.  These are issues upon which nothing can be built. As Catholic thinker Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira notes there is nothing new about divorce, nudity, tyranny or demagoguery, all of which were so widespread in the ancient world and now prevail. There is also nothing new about infanticide, incivility, fantasy and euthanasia, which were rife among the barbarians. Outside of a framework of order, these issues will unleash chaos upon what is left of our society. These forces will attempt to take humanity to ever greater depths of depravity and revolt against God.  It will necessarily end in disaster.

The Restoration of Christian Order

The real debate will take place among those who will yearn for order, fight for it and desire to build something with the shipwreck’s flotsam. There is no need to create a crisis over what is to be restored. Our human nature cries out for a moral law, a family-based society and a benevolent God.

We will need to return to the wellspring of our civilization. The post-liberal debate will be over how best to restore the Christian institutions of the rule of law, representative government, subsidiarity, ordered liberty, systematized science, charitable works and so many others that we cherish and without which there can be no order.  

The debate will also call for a rejection of the errors that have brought us to the present state. For too long, liberalism has lived off the social capital of Christian civilization. It has stood upon the shoulders of the Church’s giants that it now lays low. We no longer have the luxury of maintaining certain liberal fictions that claim the theological virtues are not needed, charity need not be practiced, and Christ need not be king.

A restoration must take place. However, it is not merely a matter of putting something back together or re-instituting a program of values. The root has been severed too long and cannot be reconnected. The post-liberal debate will prepare the ground. But the seed of this culture can only be born from the trials of the great repentance and conversion foreseen at Fatima.   

John Horvat II is a scholar, researcher, educator, international speaker, and author of the book Return to Order: From a Frenzied Economy to an Organic Christian Soceity--Where We've Been, How We Go Here, and Where We Need to Go. He lives in Spring Grove, Pennsylvania, where he is the vice president of the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property.


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