Am I Post-Liberal?

Corona as a Metaphor

Am I Post-Liberal?

The democratic crisis

Liberal on the typewriter
© – Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0

Corona, Corona, Corona. The polycentric world is monothematic. What else to talk about, now? Trump is not yet, but will be, history; I'm running out of topics. Lockdown? New Year's Eve bangers? Armin Laschet? The culture lies prostrate, the brains rotate empty. I begin to suspect that I'm repeating myself. Whereby: It is a re-flex, a re-action. My friend Frank, for example. He says what he says and wants, three times, four times, five times. One day I am slightly annoyed and reply: "Listen! I got you the first time, you know? My CPU is up to it." "Okay," he says, "I just want to make sure I'm understood." And grins. So when I say - whatever - again, it's because I'm under the impression: The message hasn't gotten through yet!  

For example, postmodernism: for 40 years it has been at odds with me. It already started with Lyotard. Even then, I considered his critique of the narratives of modernity to be the result of a narcissistic mortification. Well, when it comes to „the French", I'm not really capable of giving satisfaction: I used to ignore them or make fun of them as best I could; don't ask me. My real resistance, however, was and is to the term itself: For we need the words to distinguish something from something else. And now these language consumers have not only killed modernism - postmodernism is already gone, too! 

So OK, modernism had its philosophies/narratives/systems. „the Modern Age" is something different from „modern" etc.; and yet the Modern Age is modern! It is also synonymous with actuality, even future, in that it is avant-garde ahead of the mainstream. If we ignore the French salon lions for once, we call modern what is at the latest state of social, scientific or technical development, what is present-day, recent, contemporary, etc., and gives birth to the future from itself. How are we to get along without „the Modern Age" without „the modern"? Modernity, at least in my world, is timeless, like the enlightenment, physics, or love. 

Likewise 

I feel the same way about the term liberal. Am I liberal? Hard to say; post-liberal, perhaps. Certainly not in the party-political sense. Undogmatic, yes, tolerant, if need be; although tolerance always has something masochistic about it. Nevertheless, I see myself in the tradition of liberal thinking, I believe that everyone has the right to their own views, lifestyles and goals, I believe that a society is characterized by the way it knows how to deal with divergent forces, protects minorities, but also gives room for initiative, etc.. Only ... more and more often I am no longer of my opinion. 

Because in the meantime I'm running out of liberality. 

Not because I dislike neo-liberalism, etc.; not because of that! It had nothing to do with my understanding of liberality anyway. Which is lost to me, is that liberality, as I understand it! And no, it is also not about the FDP!
I just want to quickly dismiss the party as an argument: 

I had recommended it for the last election and then also voted for it. Before I had admitted in detail my „illusionless realism" and also a certain resignation, according to which I did not believe that the FDP was the „right" party. On the other hand, „the fresh appearance" and a at times inspiring Christian Lindner had given me the courage to favor the party that, as I had once said in a cheerful dinner speech among friends, „I would never ever vote for". It was a leap of trust; and Mr. Lindner and his party punished me for this daring. First with their unutterable withdrawal from the government negotiations. A great deal has already been said about this; I will only add that I thoroughly admired Lindner's courage. As one can admire a suicide. Because his political judgment had virtually imploded in this act; Wolfgang Kubicki in tow. I interpreted the fact that the FDP subsequently made itself heard with a right-wing meandering will-o'-the-wisp that gave me the shivers as a mixture of the worst opportunism and a supposedly logical, above all historically and intellectually underexposed strategic orientation. In the end, it was clear that the breath of fresh air with which Lindner had brought the party back into the Bundestag was a fashionable deceptive air. The FDP had hammered a nail in the coffin of political liberality, both the concept and the content. But:

This is no accident! 
The problem lies deeper. 

The „court of meaning" of (intellectual as well as political) liberality stands and falls with its foundation: the freedom of the individual. In the course of the history and the discourses political and legal philosophical concepts have docked to „the freedom", as whose trustee the FDP had posed with pleasure; however, in the core of all liberality stands a life as unrestricted as possible; ... so to speak at the most bordered by social guard rails!

That at least, because anarchy, as a qualified anarchist I may say this, is not liberal, you almost want to say: on the contrary. Every freedom needs limits and regulations. The freedoms to murder or to commit other crimes are not part of the brand essence of freedom. By the way, unlike Rosa Luxemburg, the regulative of party-political „liberal" freedom was never the „humanistic, empathically-respected" insight into the freedom of others. At best, this found asylum under a vague concept of tolerance. The partisan freedom lives under a social, regulatory political regulative, which imposes the utmost restraint on itself, economically trusts the invisible hand and in the social-cultural form just recognizes the one or other protection of minorities. According to its innermost understanding, this liberal freedom serves the individuals, who are allowed to do what they want.

The fact that freedom is a fiction and that our biological-physical, cognitive, social and economic conditions thumb their noses at us impresses very few people: nothing haunts our minds that much more. And indeed the fiction hides behind a seductively mendacious double character: for although all being human is, on the one hand, bound in innumerable constraints, which would be downright ridiculous to call freedom, it allows us, on the other hand, adventurous escapes into arbitrariness, if the "results of our freedom" serve the general social definition of welfare, or better: of prosperity. 
Unbridled is your freedom to organize any enterprise and above all to buy everything that comes into your head - even if you commit yourself for it up to the debt tower.

Even beyond the cost, freedom has a price 

Almost everything that threatens the world at the beginning of the 21st century, more precisely: the living conditions on this planet, is rooted in this freedom fraud. 

It starts with freedom of expression: what was once an emancipative, even liberal-revolutionary demand, and as such has achieved historical merit, has been corrupted into a catalytic force of populist disruption in the wake of social media and a profit-driven information economy. Böckenförde applies - with a minus sign, so to speak: Liberal society protects this disruption, it cannot help it.

It took a while for the right-wing and radical roll back to learn to keep every lie, distortion, perversion or assertion warm with the cloak of freedom of speech and thus to use it against freedom of speech itself. Right after that, however, reality was on fire. BuzzFeed just published a lengthy piece on the subject, "In 2020, Disinformation Broke the US." 

Say what you will: this is exactly what „the French" got us into! What is, what is not: there is no truth, only versions; facts and their alternatives; everything became equally valid. Democracy, and with it the foundations of Western societies, are led through the arena on the nose ring of their morals, by representatives of interests, goals and claims that aspire to a different society. And where the society tries to defend its foundations „robustly", so to speak, the breaking edges of its own ideas are rubbed under that very nose ring: CENSORSHIP! 
By the way, not only the neo-fascists and populists have learned this lesson. 

Besides the freedom of opinions, the freedom of the individual has also turned against society. He or she is „allowed" - within the framework of almost incidental legal restrictions - to do almost anything his or her heart desires. The collateral damage to society, to the world, to the planet - whether it is the CO2 emissions from cars, airplanes or ships, from companies or construction plans, from events or „innovations", or the foreign burdens, garbage and plastic residues, the labor and exploitation conditions in foreign countries - all these burdens and damages imposed on the general public do not fall within the responsibility of those who are the forgers of their own fortune. 

Social – are only the losses

Once again, society is faced with a dilemma regarding its goals: If it wants to secure "jobs" and, more generally, the functioning of its economy, it would be "well advised" not to watch the entrepreneur too closely, not to restrict him too pedantically in his „freedoms". Etc. The companies of the world dictate to the states and societies which responsibilities they are „willing" to assume, or - please: your choice - for which „impositions" they prefer to look for other, less pious locations. 

As for the individuals, this applies analogously: Free ride for free citizens! My house, my ship, my car. And by the way, I may say what I want. Under the flag of freedom we organize a present at the price of the future.

***

It is difficult for us to recognize freedom as a cause, and indeed as a fault, because as a foundation and preamble, as a credo and conditio sine qua non, it enjoys a broad social consensus. With my diagnosis I get into a double bind: „saving the world" AND my freedom (yours, ours) - that doesn't add up. I can hardly want that, but I have to realize that we - as a society and as a world - simply cannot afford „this kind of freedoms" anymore. But what, please, does that mean? 

The insight is due to realism: Societies that, like addicts, prosper on fossil drugs will not voluntarily give up the hellish stuff. And the Porsche drivers, claim holders, and consumer elites - and before I forget: I unfortunately count myself among them - will not back down from their claims, desires, tastes, hobbies, toys, and travel destinations either. 

Even if (and where) we concede that individuals try - within their means - to skip a steak or a model change, to pay attention to fair trade or even to „spend a vacation at home" etc., if it is an effort at all (and not merely an omission of excess out of weariness), then it should not be talked down either. Every effort counts. „If only each one swept in front of his own front door ..." - all well and good and almost true. But when you do the math, it becomes clear: each one ... that's a minority. The notorious reference to the „personal" responsibility is an eyewash, whose hidden goal is to undermine the - this becomes ever clearer: inevitable - coercive measures in the name of freedom. After all, everyone is up to some kind of consumerist mischief. But it is not only our lack of renunciation and/or the refusal of any reasonable self-restraint. The real dilemma has a bigger lever: We - „the West" - have long been hostages of our liberal and freedom-loving world view.

One percent of the world's population causes two percent of all emissions - we Germans. Nobody may deny that we, in Germany, in the EU, in the West, have to start stopping. On the other hand: 2 percent! Even if we bring that down to 0: that won't be enough. We have to take a closer look - and that's where the hostage situation begins:

At present, national as well as individual freedoms are particularly rampant in China, India, Brazil and Indonesia - and of course in the USA. Africa is also on the move! We shy away from holding the grievances and risks against the emerging economies and denouncing them. This is particularly unfortunate, because it is precisely there that the shit hits the fan! We believe that we have no right to do so, because we, the West, historically bear the main responsibility for the state of the world - and that, on top of that, by exploiting those very peoples and regions that now, perhaps, finally, have found their own path to their own prosperity. But if the result of this humility is that we watch - with bare chest - how elsewhere the end of the world is practiced - or at least a chain reaction of catastrophes - then this reveals a misunderstood historical responsibility. 

The responsibility of the West, apart from its own obligation, is not realized in laissez faire, but in an intervention that removes the guilt, yes, even if the letters bend, in a „global imperialism". When dealing with such slogans, of course, the fine print matters all the more. 

Freedom does not go voluntarily

But with all due caution: relying on insight and reason, expressing hopes and holding up history as proof („et hätt noch imma jot jejange“, a dialectal german saying, meaning ~all went well, at least in the past) - these are globules whose (psycho)therapeutic power, if they ever worked, has been exhausted! The Corona crisis has spelled it out for us.
We are still in the middle of it, and so it is a little uncertain to declare Corona to be a pattern now. And yet it seems to me: Corona, the dead and the lateral thinkers - if that is not a metaphor! 

Corona is not an event: sin flood rains, storms, fire, drought, etc., all terrible, but finite. now hold out and then things will pick up again. With Corona it is different; it is a (in the middle of it one thinks: endless) process. The LordGod, one could think, gives us a last hint: This, ladies and gentlemen, is how global catastrophe goes: it lasts! Look, learn. The first lesson: how duration wears and tears. The second lesson: no sooner had the frightful moment become a thing of the past than the apostles of freedom, prime ministers and federal virologists arrived, waving basic laws, stupidities and graphics. Instead of shutting up, following the announcements, squeezing our cheeks together and holding out, ... we allow ourselves to be concerned, we object, we go on record, we just want to ask about this measure, that one ..... And then think laterally.

That every discourse, every doubt, every smart ass supports and prolongs the catastrophe - they don't notice; not even those who think they can stand up to the stupid babble with their „smart assessments" (and yet only proselytise converts). Clear result: the second wave. The society that allows itself this babble pays with human sacrifices. Corona was a trial run, it still is; and it shows: we take the liberty to screw it up. Therein lies the metaphor!

 

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