Anti-liberalism is having a moment. And it’s happening at all points of the political spectrum.
Suicidal religious fanatics now strike regularly at the very foundations of free and open societies in Europe. Those attacks help to inspire anti-liberal forms of nationalistic populism in countries on both sides of the Atlantic (think Marine Le Pen in France, or Donald Trump in the U.S.). In response to the electoral power of the right and selective willingness of moderate politicians to compromise with it, an anti-liberal left (think the socialist Jacobin magazine) has risen from the dead to challenge the liberal order, using concepts and categories derived from the Marxist tradition of social theory.
True liberals have plenty to say in response to the critics that increasingly encircle them. Some lines of defense focus on the importance of upholding such liberal norms as equal respect for individual rights and tolerance of disagreement. Others point to the concrete goods that liberals have and will continue to accomplish in the face of intransigent opposition. Still others highlight the possible unintended negative consequences of empowering the state to level hierarchies and stamp out injustices.
Then there’s the effort to highlight the pernicious political consequences that can follow from illiberal intellectual habits. I’m thinking above all of totalitarian forms of political argument — and specifically the tendency of those influenced (sometimes unknowingly) by Marxism to embrace the goal of “heightening the contradictions.”