These divisions, and this culture, are corrosive. It is a much bigger problem for the Left-half of society, than those of us on the right. For we are exposed to their worldview every day, in every television program, newspaper article, and movie theatre, and they are exposed to us only at the ballot box, much to their increasing horror.
The consequences of alienation
In the United States, this divide has ushered in President-elect Trump, in an act of absolute rebellion by those who did not feel that they were being heard.
What we are witnessing in the West is the revolt of people against an establishment consensus that demands relentless conformity from each and every one of us before it is willing to declare us civilized.
It is also a revolt against a culture in which a small elite decides the new catechisms of the day, and then declares questioning those catechisms to be proof of the questioner’s unfitness to be considered reasonable.
This is the biggest threat to liberty today. It comes from within, and it grows daily. It is the consequence of alienation from one another, and from a shared sense of purpose.
The United States’ Declaration of Independence, the seminal document in the history of mankind’s quest for freedom, “holds these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
That is perhaps the most quoted passage of any foundational document, anywhere in the world. But the very next paragraph is not quoted often enough:
That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to affect their Safety and Happiness.
This year, we have seen the people begin to do just that, in the United States and in the United Kingdom.
And if we want to preserve liberty, and preserve our shared and common values, we, as a society – and particularly those of us who are in a position to attend and speak at conferences like this one – must recommit ourselves to behaving like genuine liberals.
The loss of the apple
But that is not our only challenge. If preserving liberty were as simple as following a few people you disagree with on social media, liberty would not be in danger.
Writing of the Communist Russia in his 1932 essay “Bolshevism and the Bourgeoisies,” Christopher Dawson observed that the Bolsheviks had “upset the throne and the altar, and put in place nothing but themselves.”
The Bolsheviks are not on record as having responded to Dawson, but it is likely that their response would have been to say that the throne and the altar had failed, and it was time to sweep them away.
But one of the failures of communism and collectivism has always been its failure to recognise the importance of a unifying creed and set of beliefs for a people that is more than simply economic.
In the West, increasingly, there is no unifying creed, or set of beliefs. We, too, over the last 30 years, have swept away throne and altar. We have replaced them with a vanishing nothingness – an emptiness where our shared identity should be.
If we want people to assimilate into our society, to defend our values, and to place on them the same high price that our ancestors willingly paid, we have to give them something into which to assimilate. We have to project a sense of pride, of common purpose, of self-belief.
In conversation with the journalist Peter Seewald, the former pope, Benedict XVI, had this to say:
It is obvious today that the concept of truth has become suspect. A large proportion of contemporary philosophies, in fact, consist of saying that man is not capable of truth. But viewed in that way, man would not be capable of ethical values, either. Then he would have no standards. Then he would only have to consider how he arranged things reasonably for himself, and then at any rate the opinion of the majority would be the only criterion that counted.
The former pope’s criticism echoes that 1932 criticism of the Communists.
When we abolish the concept of universal truth, as we have done in the West with regard to our own values, and replace it with nothing but our own perceptions of what is true, then the very foundational stones on which a society is built begin to collapse.
There is a certain truth, hidden in the oldest parable of them all. The freedom of Eden was conditional on Adam making the choice not to eat the apple. The apple, and the tree on which it grew, was to be respected and venerated. The apple tree was not a restriction on freedom, but merely the price that had to be paid for its preservation. When we bite into that apple, the whole structure comes crashing down.