“What’s at stake in the struggle between Nancy Pelosi and the four progressive House members known as the squad? Partly it’s just the perpetual conflict between younger members who want change fast and older members who say you have to deal with political reality.
But deep down it’s a conflict of worldviews. No matter how moderate or left, Democrats of a certain age were raised in an atmosphere of liberalism. I don’t mean the political liberalism of George McGovern. I mean the philosophic liberalism of people like Montaigne, John Stuart Mill, Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass — people who witnessed religious and civil wars and built structures to restrain fanaticism.
Philosophic liberalism, Adam Gopnik explains in his essential book, “A Thousand Small Sanities,” begins with intellectual humility. There’s more we don’t know than we do know, so public life is a constant conversation that has no end. In the liberal view, each person contains opposites and contradictions. You flatten and dehumanize complex individuals when you see people according to crude dichotomies and assign them to tribal teams.
Liberals prefer constant incremental reform to sudden revolution. “Liberal reform, like evolutionary change, being incremental, is open to the evidence of experience,” Gopnik writes. Liberals place great emphasis on context. The question is not: What do I want? It’s: What good can I do in this specific circumstance?”
David Lindsay: I love this piece by David Brooks, because it puts the local fracas into a larger, historical framework that makes sense, and is ellegant. Not everyone agrees. Here is a comment I admired, that also counters the basic premis of Brooks’ slap on the wrist of the four young women of color.
I have also read Gopnik’s treatise on Liberalism and I come away with a somewhat different take than Brooks. The so-called radicals of “the Squad” are working within the system to change it. They are elected members of Congress, and the last time I checked, they were not calling for a revolutionary overthrow of our liberal institutions, but reform of them through legislative action. While some may disdain AOC’s use of Twitter, she is communicating with both admirers and critics alike in the medium of her generation, and the debate over her policy ideas is vigorous. The left-wing critics of liberalism that Gopnik describes do not believe that liberal institutions are capable of affecting the kinds of changes, and certainly would not disdain to become duly elected members of Congress and to work within the system to change it for the better. While they may wish to move our liberal institutions toward greater egalitarianism than some may like, they are not looking to do away with those institutions. I see current progressives in Congress as being of the same vein of Thaddeus Stevens or Frederick Douglass or Susan B. Anthony, who may have been seen as radical in their time, but were believers in the reform of American liberal institutions, but doing so through Constitutional means. While “the Squad” may not be fighting for so noble a cause as the abolition of slavery or the enfranchisement of women, they are fighting to improve American liberal institutions, not to diminish them.