The Democratic Religion

A half-century ago, a politically ambitious intellectual celebrity named Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., defined liberalism’s role as that of offering solutions to problems and solving them.  Even in the heyday of the Vital Center, that was far from a complete representation of liberalism’s self-perceived task.  Today, when “advanced liberalism” (the phrase is James Kalb’s) is rampant in the Western world and elsewhere, it is positively a ludicrous one.  Modern liberals do not wish simply to tinker with the world their ideological forebears created; they are determined to transform that world, and reality itself.  Even in day-to-day liberal politics, the idea of business as usual is unheard of.  All new liberal governments, including the so-called conservative ones, feel duty-bound to offer new promises at the start—“change we can believe in.”  These promises are usually dramatic ones, as radical as the market will bear: concluding a war of several years’ duration with the stroke of a pen and bringing the troops home within months, reinventing Social Security and healthcare, calling Wall Street to heel, and so forth.  Underlying these fairly quotidian changes, however, is an agenda of millennial proportions.

Over the past two centuries, liberalism has moved far, far beyond the traditional understanding that government ought to reflect the structure and makeup of a society...

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