Archive for October 7th, 2014
Remember when Michelle Obama promised that Barack would heal our broken souls? In my lifetime, that’s pretty much been the refrain of liberalism – a concern for the well-being of your souls, if not of yourselves, despite the stereotype that this is a feature of the religious right. It goes to the heart of the liberal trope that intentions matter more than results, and that government action is inherently more virtuous than private initiative.
It turns out this was a characteristic of liberalism even when it was relatively new and driven by Evangelical concerns. From Paul Johnson’s The Birth of the Modern, and his chapter on Britain’s rise in the role of World Policeman, comes this description of the conflicting British attitudes about the Barbary pirates and their slavery:
The West’s supine attitude toward the horrors of Barbary piracy had long aroused fury in some quarters. Officers of the British navy were particularly incensed since seamen were frequently victims of the trade. They could not understand why the huge resources of the world’s most powerful fleet were not deployed to root out this evil affront to the international law of the sea, once and for all. They could not understand why liberal parliamentarians, who campaigned ceaselessly to outlaw the slave trade by parliamentary statute, took no interest in Christian slavery….But William Wilberforce, MP, and the other Evangelical liberals, who finally got the slave trade made unlawful in 1807, flatly refused to help. They were concerned with the enslavement of blacks by whites and did not give the predicament of white slaves a high priority on their agenda, an early example of double standards.
I’m sure this account of Wilberforce is going to make some people unhappy, but it shouldn’t be taken as ad hominem. He’s merely the most prominent representative of the cause, and therefore of the cause’s flaws. Liberalism suffered from double standards when it was new, and now that it’s old, when it was religious, and now that it’s secular.