What Liberals Want
A Famous Postliberal Sums Up the Liberal Worldview
A famous postliberal has summed up some of the main views of both right- (classical) liberals and progressive liberals in this bracing passage, drawn from his most magisterial work. Observing the rampant decay and corruption of his late-imperial political order, he stated that those who celebrate immorality as a positive good “are utterly unconcerned about the utter corruption of their country.” In this passage, our author summarizes the views of his society’s elites by adopting their own words and positions, ones that celebrate the regnant depravity:
“So long as our country lasts,” they say, “so long as it enjoys material prosperity, and the glory of victorious war, or better, the security of peace, why should we worry? What concerns us is that we should get richer all the time, to have enough extravagant spending every day. . . . It is all right if the poor serve the rich, so long as [they] get enough to eat and enjoy a lazy life under their patronage . . . ; if no one imposes disagreeable duties, or forbids perverted delights; if rulers are interested not in the morality but the docility of their subjects; if other nations are under rulers who are regarded not as directors of conduct but as controllers of material things and providers of material satisfactions, and are treated with servile fear instead of sincere respect. The laws should punish offenses against another’s property, not offenses against a man’s own personal character. no one should be brought to trial except for an offense, or a threat of offense, against another’s property, house, or person; but anyone should be free to do as he likes about his own, or with his own, or with others, if they consent. . . .
“It is a good thing to have imposing houses luxuriously furnished . . . ; to have drag queen story time full of fevered shouts of degenerate pleasure and every kind of cruel and degraded indulgence. Anyone who disapproves of this kind of happiness should rank as a public enemy: anyone who attempts to change it or get rid of it should be hustled out of hearing by the freedom-loving majority.”
This passage—with just a few slight edits for contemporaneity—appears in Book II, chapter 20 of Augustine’s City of God (titled, “The kind of felicity the opponents of Christianity wish to enjoy, and the morality by which they wish to live”). Having just finished reading sizable selections of the work with a bright group of undergraduate students at Notre Dame, it was this passage that caused perhaps the most intense buzzing in our class, with students immediately perceiving the uncanny similarity between contemporary defenders of Rome’s corrupt regime, and liberal (often Christian liberal) defenders of much the same in contemporary America.
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