Monday, February 21, 2011

The Fear in Liberalism

I've been reading Shklar recently, notably, her essay "The Liberalism of Fear." My copy of Ordinary Vices is on order, so I'm going to limit myself to that essay plus a few other sources, which I'll cite at the end. I drafted this a couple of nights ago and I'm not quite happy with it, but this is a blog, not graduate school, and I've had a bad day and want to get this off my plate so I can feed my soul with Buffy.

I made the offhand comment in another post that liberalism might be more conservative than we like to think. Thinking about this a bit more, I wonder if what I'm really suggesting is that American liberalism isn't really all that liberal. Shklar makes the observation that liberalism is not necessarily wed to modernity. What's more, many "liberal" governments have not been liberal at all. Perhaps our liberalism needs to expand a little. The liberalism of fear, Shklar hopes, points us in the direction of truer liberalism, a liberalism that actually lives up to the promise of allowing people to pursue personal freedom.

Fear is a useful term. One of my favorite critics of American politics, William Connolly, doesn't talk about fear, but he does talk about the visceral, a recognition of which can lead to more democratic methods of being. While he doesn't say this, if we turn back to Shklar, recognizing the baser instincts (like fear) could lead to more liberal sensibilities - a greater freedom for each individual.

Connolly writes, "Micropolitics and relational self-artistry shuffle back and forth among intensities, feelings, images, smells, and concepts, modifying some of them and the relays connecting them, opening up, thereby, the possibility of new thinking and alterations of sensibilities (Connolly 176)." What one of my theoretical crushes is saying here is that the political is related to the physical. These small little connections that we make in our brains every day influence how we behave. I am adding to this idea that fear specifically plays a strong role in shaping these behaviors of expansion.

 I'd like to talk hear about the fear I've seen in the past weeks: fear of losing collective bargaining rights in Wisconsin, fear of losing access to Planned Parenthood,  and a fear of losing a just definition of rape, among many others. In these united states, we fear losing freedom over our very bodies (the bodies, remember, that on a micro-level help us define our politics.) And this fear is leading to suspicion of government and fear of the cruelty that it might cause - something that Shklar and every other liberal before her supports.

Shklar writes, "We fear a society of fearful people." Shklar asks not that we always be afraid. At some point she wants us to escape fear in order to ask deeper questions. But if we are to get there, we must embrace our fears to feel the push against cruelty. This message is more important than ever, especially if you are a woman these days because your body and your life and your freedom is under direct attack.

Things I read while writing this:
"The Liberalism of Fear" by Judith Shklar
Why I am Not a Secularist by William E. Connolly
"Judith Shklar or Fear of Liberalism" by Thomas L. Dumm (in his book united states)

Something that is not pretentious to clear your palate:
Because a bad day deserves Maru.

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