America is a liberal country, and has been since its very foundation. The idea of America is that there would be a country where you could and would have a voice. That is the reason for the First Amendment to the Constitution. That is the reason the country was created out of a division of polities, themselves subdivided into counties and cities and towns. That is the reason the country was (mostly) a free market from its very foundations. Each of these systems give you voice.
Liberalism is only possible through — indeed, is founded upon — persuasion. The minute you force someone, you expose yourself as illiberal. The more ways in which you rely on force over persuasion, the more you expose the depths of your illiberality. If you oppose freedom of speech, for any reason whatsoever, you are illiberal. If you would force your morals on others, you are illiberal. If you would force people to act as you would have them act, you are illiberal.
If you would persuade people to your side, though, that is a demonstration of your liberality and your belief in liberalism. Even if you attempt to persuade someone through argument to support your illiberal ideology, you are thereby confessing that liberalism is the ultimate value, the ultimate virtue, as you need liberalism to persuade people through argument against it. You need freedom of speech to engage in such an argument — yes, to even argue against freedom of speech, you have to accept it first.
I persuade you with my rhetoric — that is the liberalism of speech. I persuade you with my dollars to sell me something — that is the liberalism of free market economics. I persuade you to support my cause — that is the liberalism of democracy. I persuade you with my philosophy, my poetry, my novels, with my paintings, with my mathematics, with my scientific facts and my logic and my reason — that is the liberalism of the liberal arts themselves.
There are also illiberal arts. There are those which insist that the teacher is the fountain of all Truth, and you had better simply regurgitate that Truth, whether that Truth be the Truth of climate change or climate denial, scientism or an anti-scientific world view, an insistence that These Are The Rules or a rejection of all rules and rules-as-such. All such people are illiberal and the preachers and practitioners of illiberalism. I force my One True Belief on you by government decree — that is illiberalism. I force to you take what I make — that is an illiberal economy. I force you to live as I think right — that is illiberal governance.
Insisting that your Good, True, and Beauty are the one and only Goodness, Truth, and Beauty comes only from the spirit of illiberalism. Argue for them, being open to counterarguments, modifying your beliefs — that’s a truly liberal mindset. I believe in the good, the true, and the beautiful, but I see them as being absent centers around which we come closer and father away without ever knowing how close or far we have gotten, which can only be reached through free discussion, through persuasion.
Beauty is truth; truth beauty. Virtue aims at the beautiful (in ancient Greek, to kalon means both good and beautiful). The just is what’s fair, and the fair is the beautiful.
But beauty is in the eye of the beholder, right? It is, and it is not. To declare it is is as much a tyranny as declaring beauty is purely objective. Liberty is neither license nor coercion. It’s neither one nor infinitely many. The illiberal mindset of pure order or pure chaos — of anything pure at all — can never be the source of any kind of liberty. Yet, illiberals keep trying to sell us shackles to set us free — with them holding the other end of those shackles.
America was founded as a liberal nation. It was not, yet, a liberal nation, though, so long as there were people in chains, so long as women could not vote, so long as the government used coercion to achieve its ends. Eventually, the slaves were freed, women were given the vote, civil rights became more widespread and enforced and believed — while at the same time, the same government took more and more of your money (an action only found constitutional in the 20th century), the government restricted how and what you could buy and sell and from whom and for how much, and the government restricted more and more who could even enter this country. Now there are calls for restrictions on freedom of speech and ever-greater restrictions on the restrictions we already have.
America was founded as a liberal nation. It has become both more liberal and more illiberal. And we see increasing illiberalism being preached from the left and the right — both of which have historically been enemies of liberalism anyway. The preachers of war, of any kind of war, are always the very worst kinds of illiberals. War is coercion, and war is completely incompatible with liberty.What America needs, though, is to more fully fulfill it’s foundations and embrace liberalism more fully. We need to embrace persuasion and reject coercion. Anything else is un-American.