What Comes After Liberalism? Nothing

What Comes After Liberalism? Nothing
What Comes After Liberalism? Nothing

The crisis inside liberalism has prompted many to admit its numerous problems. However, most people accept liberalism as a default because they find nothing better to replace it.

Few know how to answer the stinging question: What comes after liberalism? Most replies either devise some plan within the liberal box (usually meaning more liberalism) or go illiberal by proposing an opposing authoritarian political philosophy with little chance of being implemented freely.

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As a practical way of avoiding complications, they reason, liberalism suffices.

Liberalism’s Non-Liberal Elements

These choices represent a false dilemma. To explore the possibilities beyond liberalism, a proper understanding of liberalism must first be established.

Liberalism has two components that define it. The first involves limited government. It is a model that implements systems of rules rather than moral judgments. Thus, liberalism favors things like the rule of law, judicial review, representative government and free markets.

These systems of rules contributed to the prosperity of nations. Indeed, liberalism’s successes can be attributed to many of these systems. In themselves, there is nothing wrong with many (not all) of them since, when well applied, they are in accordance with the nature of things.

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However, there is also nothing specifically liberal about most of these systems. They can trace their origins to the Christian order that existed in the West before liberalism.

A Return to Order that Once Existed

Thus, many, not all, of these systems were built upon pre-liberal foundations. For example, the rule of law came from the medieval systemization of constitutional and customary law. Unknown to the ancients, representative government began with the early Parliaments, Cortes and other representative bodies that flourished in medieval times. These bodies arose because essential decisions had to be made collectively, and public consent and recognition be given to any change of custom following the old maxim “what touches all must be approved by all (quod omnes tangit ab omnibus probetur).”

Free market economic theory was especially developed by the Late Scholastics at the School of Salamanca in Spain (1500-1650). Economist Joseph Schumpeter, referring to modern economics, notes, “‘It is all in A[dam] Smith’ was a favorite saying of [Alfred] Marshall’s. But we may also say: ‘It is all in the scholastics.’”

Many historians speak of a first Industrial Revolution, marked by an explosion of trade and innovation in the late medieval period.

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Thus, any solutions to the present crisis need not exclude these wholesome, non-liberal systems that have proven to be successful.

Liberalism’s Problematic Part

The second component of liberal theory is more problematic. It consists of a philosophy of life that emphasizes individual autonomy, self-development and imagination. It refuses to define a meaning or purpose in life. It deliberately avoids the essential question of why and reduces everything to the simple how.

This individualist component tends to favor the materialistic aspects of life and minimize the spiritual and moral framework of custom, morals and religion that it views as restrictive to the individual.

In the name of liberation from authority, liberalism imposes an amoral, secular and nonmetaphysical model on nations in which God has no official role. This model entered modernity without being voted upon or chosen by populations. It is an assumed mentality that all must adopt outwardly to be considered part of the modern world. Woe to the person who dares challenge it.

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This philosophy has practical consequences. By sidestepping tricky moral questions, liberalism creates a spiritual void that tends to empty life of meaning and purpose.

A Tepid, Lonely and Uninspired Society

Even those who defend liberalism, like David Brooks, admit that liberal societies, centered on the autonomous individual, are “tepid,” “lonely” and “uninspiring.” In a recent New York Times editorial, he notes how liberalism neglects “the loftier virtues, like bravery, loyalty, piety and self-sacrificial love.”

In his latest book, The Age of Revolutions, Fareed Zakaria admits, “The rational project of liberalism is seen by many as a poor substitute for the awesome faith in God that once moved human beings to build cathedrals and write symphonies.”

By centering everything on self, liberalism is uninspiring. It will always seek to advance the right to feel, think and do whatever the unbridled passions demand. It can create the illusion that people can build their own realities out of their fantasies.

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Liberalism sets in motion a gradual process that will only end when all restrictions and morals are eliminated. Its evolutionary notion of progress will admit no return to the past.

For this reason, it has proven to be anti-Christian because its radicals always insist upon removing the ordered restraints Christian civilization imposed upon the destructive passions. This process is now far advanced.

The Internal Crisis Inside Liberalism

If liberal society has prospered at times, it was because, in addition to its systems, the moral infrastructure of a surviving Christian order subsisted in and sustained liberalism. As Patrick Deneen rightly observes, it lives off the fruits of the society it seeks to destroy.

The internal crisis in liberalism today stems from the exhaustion and crumbling of those sustaining Christian virtues and institutions that prevented collapse.

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The past phases of liberalism severed the ties that connected the human soul to a transcendent order that speaks of existential purpose found in Faith, family and place. Its unbridled passions demanded the destruction of external structures—tradition, custom or community—that encumbered self-interest.

Today, postmodern liberalism’s unbridled passions seek to destroy those internal structures—logic, identity or unity—that impede instant gratification while destroying and polarizing society.

Thus, liberalism’s assault upon the surviving structures hurls society down the path toward nihilistic destruction. Its radical adherents now attack its non-liberal rules-based systems that they find unbearable.

What Comes After Liberalism?

With this background, one can answer the stinging question: What comes after liberalism?

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When liberalism destroys itself, as the question insinuates, it will also destroy the template of looking for systems to sidestep the important questions of life. The failed amoral model that fuels the unbridled passions will no longer be an option.

Society will need to return to that hidden moral framework of Christian order that long sustained society—even under liberalism. The abandoned moral dimension will reassert itself. This return to family, community and Faith is the default position around which societies have always organized themselves after times of chaos. In those troubled times after liberalism, people can turn to God, who awaits with mercy and love.

There will be no need to invent a new radical philosophy or authoritarian regime to replace liberalism. In his moment of contrition, the prodigal son simply goes home. His long-grieving father awaits him there.

Christian order, which takes into consideration fallen human nature and natural law, is the most expressive platform to deal with the tyranny of unbridled passions. Its wisdom can orient the material and spiritual development of individuals and societies. This order provides an amazing amount of freedom to act in accordance with human nature and Divine Grace. It provides the conditions for Christ to return as a benevolent King.

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There will be no need to discard those familiar non-liberal elements that originated in Christendom and promote human flourishing.

Indeed, no dominant political philosophy preceded the Enlightenment’s liberalism. None needs to succeed it today.

Christian civilization suffices.

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