John Holbo: @jholbo1: "Write an article entitled "Gaslighting Political Liberalism". I thought of this reading Zizek ages ago but today I read Vermeule. The argument alleges a paradoxical, debilitating blindspot. Political liberalism is supposed to be broadminded, self-critical and yet-and yet!-it cannot see this hole at the heart of ... (bum-bum-BUM!) ITSELF! But the existence of the hole is un-demonstrated, merely asserted (this is the gaslight part of the production)...

...Vermeule: "Having dispensed with the superintending design of Providence in favor of contingent, indirect mechanisms, liberalism is astonished to find that there is no guiding hand to ensure the fulfillment of its own faith..." Delete 'astonished'. But deleting takes the fun out. Yet this is hardly news Vermeulathustra is bearing from ultramontane regions, beyond the provincial ken of liberals. Why be astonished? "The predictable reaction is liberal fideism, which insists ever more stridently on the truth of liberalism’s unverifiable and potentially self-defeating claims." Critical interest hinges on the liberal reacting pathologically to the revelation of something obvious. But no evidence is adduced of this.

'Liberal fideism' sounds odd, but 'liberal faith' comes to same and sounds generic. Is Rawls forever banging the drum of the 'truth' of liberalism? No. Has it worried liberals that liberalism might be unstable? Yes. Vermeule aims to establish, not that liberalism is wrong, but that it is tragically, fatally un-self-aware. Liberalism does not, cannot, know the shape of-liberalism! At best it may see itself, faintly, in the mirror of a different fideism, one which knows itself far better! A pleasing, ironic, Chestertonian fable. Meanwhile, back on earth: get in line, man.

Vermeule quotes the theologian Henri Grenier: "The end of liberalism is not the protection of private rights, full stop. Rather, the structure of the claim is that liberty itself tends to produce the good indirectly.... Thus the goal of civil society is to protect private rights so that various goods (peace and harmony) may result from them." But you could have read it in the pages of the liberal J.S. Mill. It's Mill's official view. Don't pretend it's Thomistic secret sauce.

Vermeule should play it like Nietzsche's madman. He cries in the market: 'liberalism is no Archimedean point and may even be self-undermining.' The liberals are not shocked but laugh merrily as they bustle about. Welcome to the party! Vermeule is then within his rights to stalk off, murmuring 'I have come too soon.' That is, liberals KNOW all this-all too well!-hence they aren't taking it seriously. They are playing with fire as if these are mere debate points for the seminar room.

In conclusion: carry your ashes down from the mountain, by all means. Let the honey of your wisdom overflow, in its goldenness. But don't gaslight us, man. (Thread worth writing in full because 'anti-liberalism by gaslight' is a common view, I find.)

(Zarathustra carries his ashes UP the mountain. Flame and honey roll down. We regret the error.)...