The Corner

Examining Liberalism

From a must-read interview with Paul Berman, an elegantly stated truth that we need to think hard about: 

…the liberal idea comes at a terrible cost in political understanding. In the pre-modern age the rational and the irrational could both be understood. It was possible to think and to speak about such things as the soul in political terms, and to think about distortions and perversions of the soul. This became impossible after the rise of liberalism. Political language became impoverished. If you read Plato, his idea of tyranny is very different from a modern liberal idea of tyranny. For Plato, tyranny is not a system based on bad institutions. It’s a perversion of the soul. The tyrant is someone who has lost the proper discipline over his soul and so is lost to his appetites and desires. There is even a fleeting passage or two where Plato mentions the tyrant might succumb to an appetite for cannibalism. This is amazing to see because it means Plato has already identified a cult of death as a temptation, one of the possible perversions of the soul that can take place. This is exactly the kind of thing that—after the rise of liberal ideas—it became harder for people to understand. We took all the questions of the soul, and of virtue, and of the perversions of the soul, and removed them to a corner reserved for religion or psychology. In a different corner we assigned political questions. In the political world, just as in the economic world, we wanted to accord everyone rationality, so we took all the questions of irrationality and put them in a different place entirely. It became very difficult to conceive that people might be behaving in irrational ways or might have succumbed to the allure of a cult of death.

Michael LedeenMichael Ledeen is an American historian, philosopher, foreign-policy analyst, and writer. He is a former consultant to the National Security Council, the Department of State, and the Department of Defense. ...

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