Medieval Liberals


Victor Davis Hanson writes: A classical liberal was characteristically guided by disinterested logic and reason. He was open to gradual changes in society that were frowned upon by traditionalists in lockstep adherence to custom and protocol. The eight-hour work day, civil rights, and food- and drug-safety laws all grew out of classically liberal views. Government could press for moderate changes in the way society worked, within a conservative framework of revering the past, in order to pave the way for equality of opportunity in a safe and sane environment.

Among elite liberals today, all too few are of this classical mold — guided by reason and empirical observation. By far the majority are medieval and reactionary. By medieval I mean that they adhere to accepted doctrine — in this case, the progressive doctrine of always finding solutions in larger government and more taxes — despite all the evidence to the contrary. The irony is that they project just such ideological blinkers onto their conservative opponents.

Reactionary is a good adjective as well, since notions of wealth and poverty are frozen in amber around 1965, as if the technological revolution never took place and the federal welfare state hadn’t been erected — as if today’s poor were the emaciated Joads, rather than struggling with inordinate rates of obesity and diabetes, in air-conditioned apartments replete with big-screen TVs, and owning cell phones with more computing power than was available to the wealthy as recently as the 1980s. Flash-mobbing sneaker stores is more common than storming Costcos for bags of rice and flour.

In the medieval-liberal worldview, gun control stops violence like that in Chicago or Detroit. Solar panels are the energy way of the immediate future; fracking is not. Voting fraud is almost nonexistent and mostly a right-wing conspiracy trope. High-speed rail is an efficient and economical means of transportation. The problem with public assistance is that there is too little of it, not too much. Affirmative action ensures fairness. Climate change is proven; further debate is counterproductive, and disturbing data to the contrary are little more than propaganda of the ignorant.

Like a medieval bishop, the new medievalists also seek to avoid the ramifications of their own ideologies. Like residents of a walled medieval city or religious order, they prefer enclaves and cloisters filled with others of their kind.

In California, the medieval liberal thinks it is terrible that the state’s public schools test near rock bottom in science and math. Cannot such testing be postponed? Are multiple-choice tests sufficiently sensitive to the contours of class, race, and gender? He senses that teachers’ unions and politicized mandates from the state may have something to do with the decline. Perhaps privately he is fearful that the vast migration of illegal aliens from Latin America, coupled with the inability of many African-Americans to achieve social parity, might be a contributing factor to the implosion in public schools, as well as the degeneration of the nuclear family across class and racial lines. Yet, in his projection, he accuses others of such blasphemous thoughts, even while he is usually guided by them in decisions he makes for his own progeny. For now, ensuring that the transgendered can use either public-school restroom is about all that he can offer to raise test scores and create a safe high-school campus.

The medieval-minded progressive clings to all sorts of calcified bromides for educational chaos — higher taxes, more mandates and regulation, more entitlements, and always more money. Charter schools, deunionization, a back-to-basics curriculum, or restored standards of discipline and behavior just rub the medieval liberal the wrong way.

He is more interested in spreading doctrine and saving souls than in the concrete welfare of his flock. The result is that medieval liberals talk grandly while adroitly navigating their own children’s way through the school system, preferably through a top charter or public school in a good coastal enclave, or, if need be, through a high-priced prep school. Unlike the East Coast, in California the elite were once almost universally publicly educated. The introduction of our versions of Andover and St. Paul’s into the coastal strip is a relatively new phenomenon brought to us by medieval liberals. In our best new private schools, diversity is praised as much as the methods of avoiding its consequences are institutionalized — or it is de facto defined as elite gays, women, and affluent Asians, rather than the products of the inner city and the barrio.

The medieval liberal of California either makes good money or inherited it — enough of it, at least, that he is not particularly worried that he pays the highest gas, income, and sales taxes in the nation and gets in return the country’s near-worst schools and infrastructure, with high poverty levels to boot. That others cannot afford what he takes for granted is regrettable, but can be offset, at least psychologically, by the medieval idea of penance or exemption. For the administrative assistant who lives in a one-bedroom apartment in San Jose, the Atherton tech lord offers something far better than an economic plan that would lead to better jobs, lower taxes, cheaper homes and energy, good schools, and affordable fuel.

National Review Online


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