In Friday's Washington Post, Sally Kohn, who's been dubiously praised as "the progressive answer to Glenn Beck," brooded over the Liberal Paradox: that in being so tolerant of others' views, liberals only invite the full flowering of others' intolerance. I permit Ms. Kohn the floor, which she took after slapping President Obama around for the following sin:
The real problem isn’t a liberal weakness. It’s something liberals have proudly seen as a strength — our deep-seated dedication to tolerance. In any given fight, tolerance is benevolent, while intolerance gets in the good punches. Tolerance plays by the rules, while intolerance fights dirty. The result is round after round of knockouts against liberals who think they’re high and mighty for being open-minded but who, politically and ideologically, are simply suckers.
That may be, although I don't see it as liberals' "real problem," or, at least, their most easily remedied real problem -- which isn't tolerance, but internal intolerance.
"Liberal" is an ambiguous word; it has been ever since liberals capitulated to the right's insistence that "liberalism" is a dirty word, hence liberals became "progressives." Well, some did. I'd venture that many of those who did were also the ones, often younger, who felt most keenly their politically strategic genius and activist spirit. Ever since, we've had the feisty progressives and what we could call the old-school liberals -- those in possession of more moderation, experience in the world's ways, a willingness to compromise, and so on, you get the idea.
The resulting bifurcation produced not only two schools of political approach, however. It has produced a distinct brand of internal warring, best represented here by the difference between Obamian liberalism and the activist blogosphere. Though light bulbs do on occasion appear over the heads of the latter, Obama's more moderate approach generally appears to them utterly incomprehensible and even abhorrent. For nearly two years the two sides barely spoke to each other and though presently subdued that prickliness will, no doubt, soon return.
All of which reminded me of modern conservatism's orginal factional breach and the strategic, philosophical closing thereof. There were, in the beginning, loosely, the traditionalists (Burkeans) and those of self-described reason (libertarians) and the two had been warring endlessly and costing themselves electoral victories. Until, that is, conservative strategist Frank Meyer, he of the Hegelian dialectic and National Review and Modern Age stepped in, in 1960, and guidingly wrote:
Conservatism, to continue to develop today, must embrace both: reason operating within tradition.... It can only be achieved by a hard-fought dialectic -- but a dialectic in which both sides recognize not only that they have a common enemy [liberalism and socialism], but also that, despite all differences, they hold a common heritage.
It seems to me that today's progressives see themselves as operating within a fighting tradition, while liberals see themselves as operating within the governing imperatives of reason. Yet, as conservatives of the 1950s and '60s recognized, does this not present a dialectic to be embraced, rather than differences prolonged?
It's not excessive tolerance of others, but an intolerance of each other, Ms. Kohn, that restricts their general numbers and retards liberal progress.