in his book Liberalism, John Gray defines what he thinks are the four legs of liberalism. He is individualistic, in the sense that puts the individual ahead of the claims of any community. It is egalitarian, “insofar as it confers on all men the same moral status and denies the relevance to the legal or political order of differences in moral value among human beings.” It is universalist, because it defends the “moral unity” of the human species against essentialism and cultural or historical particularisms. And he is a meliorist because he believes in the correctness and perfectibility of all social institutions and political arrangements.
They are not very specific precepts, but they serve as a guide. Liberalism is a thin ideology (not in the sense that political scientists give to «thin ideology», which is how some define populism), that is, it is a series of basic principles, a minimum program, which is then complemented by other doctrines or adapted to different contexts. Liberalism is usually mestizo. But often its miscegenation and its ambiguity (coupled with great confusion on the part of its critics and also its supposed supporters) have doomed it to disaster.
This is what Francis Fukuyama points out in Liberalism and its disenchanted, published next week by the Deusto publishing house. On the left, there are so-called liberals who have succumbed to collectivism and essentialism and have forgotten individualism and egalitarianism. On the right, there are self-styled liberals who have forgotten the meliorist character of liberalism and have turned the ideology into something cynical and cruel, a parody of anti-interventionism and social Darwinism. Y from both sides, left and right, there is an attack on one of the cores of liberalismwhich is the control of power.
When illiberalism reaches the institutions, its main objective is only power without control or accountability. It is common for the liberal to be only in the opposition. The Liberal in government does not usually end well. Gorbachev died this week, a rare example of a liberal Marxist, at least on the question of power. As his biographer William Taubman has written, he was “the only politician in Russian history who, having all power in his hands, voluntarily chose to limit it and even risked losing it in the name of certain values and ethical principles.”
Liberalism without a check on power is not liberalism. Y it could be said that democracy without liberalism, as the philosopher Manuel Toscano has written, is not democracy: What good is an election if it is rigged, if its outcome is not controlled by neutral institutions, if there are no laws or checks and balances that guarantee equal treatment? That is why Putin attacks liberalism, which he says is obsolete, but not democracy; he makes a show of having elections, but he doesn’t want the institutions that control his legitimacy.
In Spain, illiberalism is institutionalized and transversal. The left is in an essentialist and anti-egalitarian drift: it is enough to see its alliance with identitarianism and nationalism. The right is divided between a contempt for any state attempt to improve the lives of individuals and a reactionary romanticism. Daniel Gascón has written that we are all liberals. It’s true. Western politics cannot be understood without liberalism, which is a difficult combination of optimism and caution. But we are also all a bit illiberal. Perhaps more than ever, or perhaps more explicitly than ever, the ideology of the contemporary politician is power. And if your only conviction is to stay in power, you will never want to leave it. That is why liberalism will not become obsolete, as Putin said; At least as long as there are people who believe that Lord Acton was right when he said that ‘power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely’.