Wednesday, September 5, 2012


Updated 9/6/2012
Updated 9/10/2012
After we turned off the TV, all contented with the sense of being Democrats alongside Deval and Julián and Michelle and all these other extraordinarily warm and agreeable people, I moved on to bedtime reading--Trollope again, this time political (Phineas Finn, the Irish Member), and by some kind of special grace ran right into this, from Mr. Monk, the mellowing Radical:
Mr Monk was in the Cabinet, and of all the members of the Cabinet was the most advanced Liberal. "Lady Glencora was not so far wrong the other night," Mr Monk said to him. "Equality is an ugly word and shouldn't be used. It misleads, and frightens, and is a bugbear. And she, in using it, had not perhaps a clearly defined meaning for it in her own mind. But the wish of every honest man should be to assist in lifting up those below him, till they be something nearer his own level than he finds them." To this Phineas assented -- and by degrees he found himself assenting to a great many things that Mr Monk said to him.
Isn't that exactly right? And isn't it startling, given the way we've been given to understand 19th-century liberalism as an entirely different kind of animal, all about free trade? No, free trade was just a route, now outdated, to a principle, not a principle in its own right--at its deepest, liberalism has always been the same thing.
Nantyglo Ironworks, near Brynmawr, Wales, artist unknown. From Thomasgenweb.
Update 9/6
Note the subtle notice of what's wrong with liberalism: it's timid and anti-revolutionary, afraid of the word "equality" and asking you to take care of the person "beneath" you, not get your own from the idler above, it's focused on you, not on the needy; it invites you to get a little bit patronizing. So mock yourself! It's what we are...

Update 9/10
I mean timid, patronizing maybe, but not selfish. That's important.

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