Richard Beck recently posted another in his excellent series of posts on how liberal or progressive types move, by nature, beyond tribal affiliations and thus lose something very important that they long for but cannot find.
The heart of the matter, as I wrote about two weeks ago, is how Western liberalism dissolves traditional and historical sources of connection and community. Liberalism dissolves group affiliations and treats us as rights-bearing individuals who stand alone before the state. In my posts I said that liberalism has an aerosolizing effect upon groups, it atomizes and then disperses us.
Here is [Christine] Emba summarizing this impact and its consequences:
As liberalism has progressed, it has done so by ever more efficiently liberating each individual from “particular places, relationships, memberships, and even identities — unless they have been chosen, are worn lightly, and can be revised or abandoned at will.” In the process, it has scoured anything that could hold stable meaning and connection from our modern landscape — culture has been disintegrated, family bonds devalued, connections to the past cut off, an understanding of the common good all but disappeared.
And in the end, we’ve all been left terribly alone.
That’s the heart of it, really. Liberalism is loneliness.
Many of us are lonely, desperately lonely in today’s American culture. The only solution, according to Beck and Emba, is for us to “become a whole lot more intentional about forming close knit communities.”
But this goes against the grain of the forces that make Western liberalism so attractive and vital to its adherents.
I have felt this in the depths of my being.
I am remarkably sentimental about my small town roots, about what I perceive to have been a sense of community, an organic connection in families and among neighbors that gave ballast to our lives. I found a form of this in the small churches we served over the years. At heart, I think of myself as a Mayberry guy.
But I have also felt this almost irresistible urge to rebel, to counter the narrative of the status quo, to find my own place in the world and distinguish myself from the herd.
Even today, I find myself appreciating and lauding a society that, imperfect as it was, could advance the freedom and abundance I grew up blessed with. My heart is saturated with the mythology of “the greatest generation” and the kind of communal oneness that many Americans felt in the post-war years.
And then, immediately, my liberal impulses react, protesting that the blessings I’ve known were not available to others. I get angry knowing that various tribes in power fought to keep others from those blessings in a thousand different ways. I miss the sense of community, but at the same time I despise the parochialism and downright meanness I’ve witnessed toward “outsiders.”
I struggle with loving my tribe, my people, and at the same time being able to speak about my sense of outrage at the small-mindedness that offends me. I want to feel the love. I want to stand apart.
Richard Beck ends his post with this quote from Christiane Emba, pointing out the challenge that lies before us:
Yet the deepest solution to the problem of liberalism is as personal in scale as its deepest quandary. To overhaul liberalism, we will have to overhaul ourselves, exchanging an easy drift toward selfish autonomy for a cultivated embrace of self-discipline and communal responsibility. As daunting a project as reforming a political order might seem, this internal shift may be just as hard.
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Photo by jma.guimaraes at Flickr. Creative Commons License