Saturday, October 1, 2016

Revolutionaries, Reactionaries, and Liberals

Sean Illing interviews Mark Lilla about Lilla's new book on reactionary politics:
Sean Illing

I want to talk about the major themes of your book. I’m struck by the role of narrative in your broader accounts of revolutionary and reactionary orientations.

The revolutionary treats the present as a means to some future utopia. The reactionary sees the past in all its splendor wants to relive it. In both cases, however, it’s present experience that seems least important.

Mark Lilla

Oh, I couldn't agree with you more. It's the unwillingness to live within the envelope of what the present gives you. This is what liberalism at its best does: It lowers your expectations for politics, it forces you to take responsibility for mastering what's going on in the present and urges you to think about what is ameliorating problems rather than wiping the slate clean.

We're creatures built for escape, and we try to escape ourselves psychologically in so many ways, and it's a natural tendency to want to escape the present rather than think it through when there are moments of crisis and dislocation.
As I understand liberalism, it is fundamentally about accepting ordinary life as our destiny and making our ordinary lives the best we can. This is liberalism's strength and its weakness: it is rooted in reality, not dreams about the future or the glorious past.

1 comment:

G. Verloren said...

I'd have to agree, this pretty much sums it up neatly.

Liberalism is the product of rationalism and humanism. It says that first, we need to open our eyes and look honestly at the world around us, as it really is rather than how we might wish it to be. Then, to use empiricism and logic to figure out how to improve the world for all of humanity.

Both reactionaries and revolutionaries refuse to accept the world as it really is; they often seek to tranform it into something it never was or never can be; and they often fail to consider how to even undertake a transition from the present reality to their chosen ideal. They believe if they simply reject and destroy the present, their imagined future or past will simply miraculously coalesce to replace it.