Like democracy, liberalism is at the center of the entire contemporary Western political ideological construct. In the much used phrase “liberal democracy”, the “liberal” component seems to have gained even more importance than the “democracy” factor in giving “liberal democracy” the aura of universal legitimacy.
As the discussion in recent years has shown, democracy per se, that is the manifestation of the will of the people, within practical constraints like elections and the impossibility of asking the entire electorate every time important decisions need to be taken, is not enough by the standards of contemporary arbiters of civilized norms.
While democracy is ostensibly regarded as a sacred object, Western political conscience has been gripped by the understanding that sometimes democracies can result in the emergence of populism, an expression of the will of the people that appears to contradict many of the other values that liberal democracy purportedly stand for. Donald Trump’s presidency, the British referendum, the presence of democratic but “illiberal” governments in some Central European countries are all a case in point. While all these developments were undoubtedly the result of democratic process, mainstream Western political discourse has been profoundly hostile to all these expressions of democratic will, not showing any opening to compromise and engaging in their de facto delegitimization. Hence one could conclude that democracy alone is not a good thing, only a liberal democracy can aspire to the ideal state. Liberalism and democracy are meant to go hand in hand. For these reasons one could be forgiven if one got the impression that the world has entered an age where liberalism is the prerequisite of real democracy, and that there cannot be a real democracy without liberalism.
Liberalism is a rather recent political philosophy, but in a way like all (relatively) new things and fashions it cannot do without a pronounced claim to universality. Liberalism does not seem to tolerate half-measures. Traditional liberalism stood for liberation and tolerance for other opinions and ways of life that differed from the Christian dogma of the age. Today, with the Christian dogma having all but disappeared (even in “Christian” countries like Poland, religion and the state are clearly separated and Christianity has no legal authority), liberalism itself seems to have become a dogma.
Because contemporary liberalism defines itself by the adoption of the most progressive stances on all sorts of social matters, a failure to accept the latest trends in terms of social views will result in harsh condemnations by the liberal establishment. What about liberalism’s original claim that it stood for tolerance of diversity? There is little diversity, when in the name of diversity anyone who wants to keep enjoying some basic form of respect is forced to think exactly the same as everyone else about most issues.
In the end, contemporary liberalism does not even care about politics so much. It is about much more than that. It is not concerned very much with politics as it is with morality. Politics, the art of governing, is too narrow a business for “liberals” – today they thrive in seeking the moral high ground, even if that turns out not to be too liberal an attitude after all.