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The First Obligation of Liberalism



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I was pleased to see our friends, the Editors of The New Republic, come out against the Occupy Wall Street set, rightly pointing to the creepy group-think on display in this “human microphone” business, and to the thick thread of genuine-article revolutionary anti-capitalism that runs through the whole affair. (“One of the core differences between liberals and radicals is that liberals are capitalists.” — let us hold them to this.) 

Though there was at least one jarring sentence: “Indeed, one of the first obligations of liberalism is skepticism—of governments, of arguments, and of movements.”

Um, I’m skeptical. When’s the last time you heard a healthy skepticism from liberals about the efficacy of government spending in area x? But perhaps I was too hasty. Indeed, all you have to do is read on to the next sentence, which makes clear what the proper scope of liberal skepticism should be:

And so it is important to look at what Occupy Wall Street actually believes and then to ask two, related questions: Is their rhetoric liberal, or at least a close cousin of liberalism? And is this movement helpful to the achievement of liberal aims?

So, the operative kind of “skepticism” is skepticism about rhetoric unlikely to help “the achievement of liberal aims.” That is, you should start being skeptical only after you’ve adopted, and are interested in defending, a worldview that is profoundly not.



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