Unhinged Culture Warriors Are The Real ‘Threat To Democracy’

Political issues always have a history. Looking back, scholars have identified a unique mixture of classical liberal and conservative thought that produced one of the most promising eras in the […]
Published on September 12, 2023

Political issues always have a history.

Looking back, scholars have identified a unique mixture of classical liberal and conservative thought that produced one of the most promising eras in the history of the English-speaking peoples.

Classical liberalism emerged in mid-17th century England when a growing commercial class began to challenge the control of aristocrats in medieval society.

That challenge was a major factor in the revolutions that transformed the Anglosphere in the 17th and 18th centuries. It led to the English Civil War (1642–51), the Glorious Revolution (1688), and the American Revolution (1775–83).

Liberal philosophers such as John Locke held that the central purpose of a governing order is to protect persons and property and guarantee the natural rights of citizens to freedom of thought, speech, and worship.

Classical liberal economist Adam Smith made the case for free markets in which the division of labor, competition, and the laws of supply and demand would produce more goods at lower prices. The iconic Scottish savant is widely recognized for his 1776 treatise on the “Wealth of Nations,” in which he explained that self-interested entrepreneurs serve the public good because they must satisfy others in order to profit themselves.

The Liberal-Conservative Coalition

People are less familiar with the same Adam Smith’s 1759 “Theory of Moral Sentiments,” which, according to the late Roger Scruton, “provided the philosophical insight that gave intellectual conservatism its first real start in life.”

Smith laid out a vision that became central to an evolving liberal-conservative consensus. He argued that productive human relationships aren’t only grounded in reason but also in sympathetic feelings toward others. He acknowledged the importance of liberty, but also valued the laws, institutions, and virtues that shape responsible citizens and ensure that freedom benefits everyone.

After the grisly events of the French Revolution, Anglo-conservatives such as Edmund Burke and Thomas Jefferson were convinced that government should be tailored to the sound customs of an existing society rather than the murderous logic of abstract ideas.

Burke favored a continuing role for religion to strengthen a nation’s moral fiber. Jefferson insisted that continuity was a necessary condition for a successful democratic society.

Classical liberals focused on the importance of free markets and liberty. Conservatives saw faith, family, and national solidarity as essential ingredients in a well-ordered society. Together, they sought productive discourse between agents of change and defenders of permanency. They recognized the obligations of freedom as well as its benefits.

Killing a Partnership That Shaped a Golden Era

In the early decades of the 20th century, a German socialist intellectual who took up residence in London compromised the political partnership that had produced a golden era.

The allure of Marxism and neo-Marxism fractured the English-speaking intelligentsia and ushered in a century of dysfunction.

Political movements and formative institutions swung leftward. Cultural elites became increasingly radical and disconnected from middle and working-class people.

Marxist progressives proposed big government, higher taxes, departures from traditional norms, socialist economics, global leadership by borderless elites, and contempt for what Victor Davis Hanson calls the “Dying Citizen.”

Deep state managers became 21st-century tyrants. During the recent COVID pandemic, they censored medical evidence and exaggerated the crisis to tamper with longstanding election procedures.

Today, progressives exploit the language of “diversity, equity, and inclusion” and pretend to be protecting the weak. In reality, they’re creating burdensome costs, erasing national borders, inflating the currency, indoctrinating children, censoring speech, dividing nations, encouraging criminal behavior, and persecuting political opponents.

The Real Threat to Democracy

The left regularly depicts classical liberals and modern conservatives as racists, xenophobes, homophobes, and fascists.

“Trump’s Threat to Democracy Is Now Systemic” shouted a headline in an August 2023 edition of The Atlantic. “Trump made a mockery of American democracy. Why are Americans shrugging this off?” echoed the Miami Herald editorial board.

Militants use the DARVO method to escape being held accountable for their malevolent behavior. They “deny” intentional abuse, “attack” their target, and “reverse the roles” of victims and oppressors. This is precisely the tactic being employed against supporters of the MAGA movement.

We were shocked to learn that, in 2016, high-ranking agents in the FBI discussed the possibility of “an insurance policy” against the election of Donald Trump. This year, another group of partisan prosecutors are indicting him during the primary election season.

In August, Canada’s foreign affairs minister announced to the Canadian Press that the Trudeau government is considering a “game plan” for responding if the United States takes a “far-right, authoritarian shift.”

We can only presume that the minister is worried about the reelection of a U.S. president who produced lower taxes, secure borders, higher incomes, moderate inflation, promising stock markets, reasonable energy costs, and affordable mortgage rates during his first term in office.

Threats from the “far-right” indeed!

Using state and federal authorities to criminalize political opponents, or taking advantage of a foreign minister’s influence to discredit political candidates in a neighboring country are hardly examples of ethical democratic conduct.

We no longer have loyal public servants who are dispassionately committed to preserving democracy. We’re up against unhinged ideologues who believe they’re entitled to permanent power and are prepared to achieve it by any means necessary.

Classical liberals have partnered with traditional conservatives throughout our history. They have stood together to preserve liberty, unity, security, good faith, moderation, and the integrity of the democratic process.

It’s woke culture warriors who are the real “threat to democracy.”


William Brooks is a Senior Fellow at Frontier Centre for Public Policy.  Originally appeared here.

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