The hidden conservative core of liberalism

Liberalism was supposed to save us from bigotry. It did so by giving everyone the right to choose whatever identity suited them, and giving no-one the right to judge others. Tolerance as a social contract. And for a while, things seemed to be going in the right direction: we had the first black president, diversity in the media was growing. But just when we were about to elect the first female president, a kind of backlash happened. A resurgence of conservatism that was brewing for years found its means of expression in the figure of Trump. How did this happen? Did society simply regress?

Liberalism gives you the freedom to choose whatever identity you want, but what are your options? Where do they come from, who makes them? Not liberalism: it can’t play favourites to any identity, it can’t create them. Liberalism is based on the idea that there is no absolute Truth, so nobody can judge someone else’s beliefs. But that also means nobody has the right to assume their beliefs are any more valid that someone else’s. Belief becomes a matter of personal preference.

But in such a world, where every single individual can believe whatever they want, how is a society possible? What holds people together, allows them to interact, if they have no shared frame of reference?

This shared frame of reference that holds society together is conservatism. Traditional gender roles, sexuality, and race relations. What makes conservatism so powerful, and able to play this role, is because it’s backed up by the hard currency of True Belief. You and me can use the word “woman” not because we know it means the same to both of us: we could both have wildly varying theories and ideas about the word “woman”. But what makes our communication is possible, is that we know that there is someone out there who really, firmly, believes that a woman is simply a woman, and we both know what that means, although we don’t necessarily have to agree with it.

Liberalism hates this True Belief, finds it the pinnacle of intolerance, but secretly relies on it nonetheless. So all it can do is mount a kind of protest, endlessly creating identities that subvert, reverse and pervert traditional identities. It relishes in provoking the dumb yokel who naïvely Believes Truly. So now we can understand better the Trumpian backlash: on the one hand, they are tired of being ridiculed, on the other, they are genuinely concerned about what would happen to society if liberalism had its way and completely un-tethers us from any shared conviction.

If we want to change the meaning of the word “woman”, or any word for that matter, we have to find a new meaning for it and dare to Believe Truly in it, dare to be ruthlessly intolerant to anyone who disagrees. Otherwise all we can do is construct yet more deconstructions and recursive theories about womanhood, which all orbit around an unchanging center of gravity which is a traditional caricature of a woman.

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