The Moderation of Liberalism?

Moderation of Liberalism
President Barack Obama talks with former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush in the Oval Office, Jan. 16, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

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The sixth and final post on Francis Fukuyama’s recent book Liberalism and its Discontents.

The Moderation of Liberalism

Francis Fukuyama includes a puzzling line near the beginning of Liberalism and its Discontents. The title suggests an uncompromising defense of liberalism against its critics. However, Fykuyama writes, “The answer to these discontents is not to abandon liberalism as such, but to moderate it.” In other words, Fukuyama makes clear early in the book his intention to compromise. Essentially, he admits liberalism has gone too far or rather has “stretched to the point of breaking.” At the same time, the moderation of liberalism cannot become the adoption of illiberalism. So, the question we must answer is quite difficult. How do we moderate liberalism?

In some ways, democracy already exists to provide a counterweight to liberalism. Democracy is both a manifestation of liberalism and a counterweight to it. While liberalism looks to universal ideals, democracy solves specific or particular problems. Moreover, it functions over a distinct space or people. Fukuyama writes, “Democracy means that the people are sovereign, but if there is no way of delimiting who the people are, they cannot exercise democratic choice.” So, democracy demands a sense of community or nation. It requires an ingredient that liberalism fails to provide.

Liberalism requires conservatism to make democracy work. In a democratic culture, they complement each other like two sides of the same coin. They point in opposite directions, but it’s not possible to tear one apart from the other. Conservatism moderates liberalism just enough so democracy can flourish. As Fukuyama explains near the end of his book, “Recovering a sense of moderation, both individual and communal, is therefore the key to the revival—indeed, to the survival—of liberalism itself.” Perhaps moderation is too strong a word. Maybe we should think of democracy as the successful marriage between conservatism and liberalism. It works best when they both thrive.

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3 thoughts on “The Moderation of Liberalism?

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  1. The real problem today is not about how to “reconcile” liberalism with democracy, but that there are many citizens, like myself, who are not uncomfortable with the idea of getting rid of both. I’ve earned how to find my “community” without the government’s help. I’ve drawn my own lines, partly because liberalism doesn’t have the stomach to exclude anyone. Publicly, that is. It doesn’t take an MIT degree to discover how our leaders privately betray the very ideals they profess to follow. And it will be fun to expose it through our uncensored social platforms.

    1. Thanks for reading and making an interesting point. What do you propose to replace liberalism and democracy with? Are you suggesting an end to the state? I’m not sure I’m asking the right question, but would want to know more.

      FYI – I don’t have an MIT degree, so I’d agree it does not take one to discuss these topics.

  2. “Essentially, he admits liberalism has gone too far or rather has “stretched to the point of breaking.””
    and that’s what happened in US during the abortion law debate. (Female) Liberalists have gone to extremes in the campaign for the freedom of privacy, by ignoring the fundamental point of the right to life for a fetus. Abortion is then only seen as a political route for liberal female circles as freedom of choice and justification for birth control.

    The events in the US today not only damage the US legal order, but also become a record for the existence of the UN and humanitarian NGOs in translating the basic principles and norms of universality.

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