There may be something to this [claim that "market extremism" and "pursuing freedom for freedom's sake" has had bad impacts on our society] but I think it fundamentally misses the much more immediate challenge our ailing liberal democracy faces. It isn’t some inherent flaw in liberalism itself, but a familiar threat from the authoritarian tendency of the left in the West’s political culture. The instinct of so-called progressives to impose statist and collectivist solutions to society’s problems is well established, but in the past decade or so a redefined ideology of progressivism—in cultural and economic terms—has emerged in ways designed to look like an extreme liberalism but which are in fact the direct opposite.
Take the most obvious current battleground in the so-called culture wars—the battle over human sexuality.On the face of it, this looks like Exhibit A for the case of those who say we have taken liberalism to its most self-destructive point. We have elevated individual choice to the level at which we are told we can actually reject our biological sex, and that this freedom is so expansive that it must be extended to prepubescent children.But if you dig beneath the rhetorical surface, you see that this isn’t really about extending freedom at all. The real objective here isn’t to emancipate children as young as 10 from the shackles of convention, but to remove parents’ freedom to determine what is best for their children. This effort to undermine the institution of the family serves the larger purpose of transferring authority for children away from parents to the state.Why do they do this? Because families are obstacles to the left’s ambitions. They are the most important building blocks of genuinely free societies. This conception of the family as an obstacle to the superior will of the collective is rooted in traditional Marxist ideology, not liberalism.We see the same in the battle over what children are taught in schools. The left’s leading advocates in the media consistently frame the debate on the teaching of radical ideas about sex and race to young children as “book-banning,” conjuring images of brownshirted Republicans gleefully throwing innocuous story books on some giant bonfire. But remember what this is actually about. In one of those rare moments of revelatory candor in political debate, Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic candidate for governor of Virginia in 2021, told Glenn Youngkin, his Republican rival: “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.”This “It Takes a Village” idea again frames itself as liberal, but it is in fact classically illiberal. It fits also with the modern orthodoxy that we must be indoctrinated to see ourselves not as individuals with agency over our own lives, but merely as scarcely autonomous component members of some larger identity group.This modern cultural collectivism is accompanied by an ever more aggressive economic collectivism. When Barack Obama memorably told American business leaders “You didn’t build that,” it was a restatement of the subjugation of the idea of individual agency to statist responsibility (emphasis added).