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Social Liberalism: Going Too Far

A few weeks ago, a reader at Instapundit found an interesting passage in the archives which Glenn Reynolds had first quoted in February 2002.  I made note of the passage because it seemed to fit so well with both the social liberalism theme and also with the distinction (increasingly hard to recognize in the age of Obama, I admit) between liberals and leftists to which I made reference in my last post.

The passage is from an article by Judith Lewis entitled “Why I’m Not a Protestor” that appeared in the LA Weekly on Jan. 30, 2002:

And whatever these perfect strangers from Kentucky stood for, however distant they were from the causes of global minimum wage, clean energy and sustainable peace, they were still able to treat people who shared almost none of their values without contempt. We were able to do the same, and to us, that was a hugely political act.

But it is the kind of political act for which the current crop of activist groups — from the Voters Rights March to Ramsey Clark’s International Action Center — have increasingly little patience. Faced with dissenting views or even devil’s advocacy from newspaper reporters, they grow hostile and deny access. When I’ve collaborated with activists on the left, as I did recently on a Web site, I’ve found them willing to censor discussions or use ridicule when certain words make them uncomfortable. When I’ve written about them, they’ve been unhappy that I’ve focused on their personal struggles and not exclusively on the issues, and as a member of the media, I’ve endured their suspicion and scorn. Were these people ever to actually run the country, I complained loudly in the summer of 2000, while I was up in Malibu covering the Ruckus Society’s direct-action training camp, it would be a bona fide fascist dictatorship.

Although the LA Weekly article ends by reiterating the writer’s allegiance to leftist goals and ideals, she intends it as a warning to her fellow liberals and leftists that they need to learn to work and play well with others.  Despite her moment of clarity, she is unable to recognize that the leftist activist class is extreme and intolerant because leftist philosophies inevitably end up there.

The passage came to mind again when I saw this recent interview with Juan Williams at the Daily Caller.  In the interview, Williams talks about what he learned from his firing by NPR:  the liberal media will “shut you down, stab you, kill you, fire you” if you disagree, he tells Ginni Thomas.

Both examples remind me of the many political change stories that Neoneocon has collected and written about over the years.  Although neither Judith Lewis (in the LA Weekly article) nor Juan Williams have abandoned their belief in leftist ideas, both have experienced a key element of leftism that has inspired many others to look more closely at conservative ideas and conservative thinkers.

In other words, the ingrained tendency of the left to go too far often unsettles the willingness of individuals to continue to believe in the narrative of a beneficent and well-intentioned politics–a belief which, however unfounded, is one of the hallmarks of social liberalism.   At least that has been my experience.

What have our readers observed?  Were any of you political changers?  Was there something about the anger, intolerance, and extremism of the leftist activist class that inspired you to question your views or, alternately, that made you more resolute in your conservative beliefs?