Rev. Dennis Sanders was kind enough to invite me onto his podcast recently to talk about liberalism. The invitation came as a result of a piece I wrote in Firebrand called “On Liberalisms (They just don’t make ’em like they used to).” I wrote this piece because I’m increasingly concerned about the decline of public discourse. The public sphere has become more like Thunderdome. Without a public sphere in which participants self-consciously serve the common good, our liberal republic is in serious trouble.
The term “liberal” means various things to various people, but I’m primarily concerned about the preservation of “classical liberalism.” I explain what I mean by this in the essay linked above.
I’ve been reading Carl Trueman’s book The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, however, and it makes me wonder whether the preservation of classical liberalism is a lost cause. Is it simply a relic of days gone by? Is it an artifact of the Enlightenment, or will we be able to hold on to it somehow? Perhaps concepts such as individual dignity, free expression, the public sphere, and reasoned discourse are salvageable, but to do so will take a herculean effort on the part of their proponents. Ours is a particularly illiberal age. Our cultural moment is increasingly authoritarian, and its authoritarian tendencies have a lot of momentum.
As for me, I’ll continue to promote values such as coherence, fair-mindedness, curiosity, courage, and truthfulness. It would just be nice to see these intellectual virtues get a bit more traction.