John Gray notes that, after the collapse of Communism, the Western Liberal Establishment decided it was obligated to follow suit.
The values imposed under communism were internalised by few among those who were compelled to conform to them. Ordinary citizens and many communist functionaries were a bit like Marranos, the Iberian Jews forced to convert to Christianity in mediaeval and early modern times, who secretly practised their true religion for generations or centuries afterwards. Such fortitude requires rich inner resources and an idea of truth as something independent of subjective emotion and social convention. There are not many Marranos in the post-liberal west.
Some have attempted to revive classical liberalism, an anachronistic project that harks back to a time when western values could command a global hegemony. Others have opted for a hyperbolic version of liberalism in which western civilisation is denounced as being a vehicle for global repression.
In this alt-liberal ideology, the central values of classical liberalism â€” personal autonomy and the rejection of tradition in favour of critical reason â€” are radicalised and turned against the liberal way of life. A heretical cult, alt-liberalism is what liberalism becomes when it tears up its roots in Jewish and Christian religion. Today it is the ruling ideology in much of the academy and media.
In these conditions one might suspect self-censorship, since anyone expressing seriously heterodox views risks a rupture in their professional life. Yet it would be a mistake to think alt-liberals are mostly cynical conformists. Since practising cynics realise that the views they are publicly promoting are actually false, cynicism presupposes the capacity to recognise truth. In contrast, alt-liberals appear wholly sincere when they denounce the society that privileges and rewards them. Unlike the Marranos, whose public professions concealed another view of the world, alt-liberals conceal nothing. There is nothing in them to conceal. They are expressing the prevailing western orthodoxy, which identifies western civilization as being uniquely malignant.
Of course, civilisational self-hatred is a singularly western conceit. Non-western countries â€” China, India and Russia, for exampleâ€” are increasingly asserting themselves as civilisation-states. It is only western countries that denounce the civilisation they once represented. But not everything is as it seems. Even as they condemn it, alt-liberals are affirming the superiority of the West over other civilisations. Not only is the West uniquely destructive. It is only the West â€” or its most advanced section, the alt-liberal elite â€” that has the critical capacity to transcend itself. But to become what, exactly? Lying behind these intellectual contortions is an insoluble problem.