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Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Blame it on the liberals

Liberal-bashing is fun: You can say that they are not liberal enough and target them for being liberal too

Written by Pratap Bhanu Mehta | Updated: June 28, 2018 11:06:58 am
Liberals, liberals in india, intolerance, right-wing supporters, Who are liberals?, saffron supporters, liberal bashing, bhakts, Constitution, India news, express column Liberals are haughty, naughty and hegemonic. Their words are more destructive than any actual violence. (Representational image)

This is an age of blaming liberals for every ill. Who exactly a liberal is, you would think, is not a straightforward question. But no more. The answer is simple. If you want to blame someone, call them a liberal.

We used to worry India had barely a handful of genuine liberals. Now, apparently, liberals are everywhere: Plotting the triumph of modest doses of equality, robustly defending individual freedom, resisting the tyranny of compulsory identities, using reason as a modest instrument for argument, engineering scepticism of religion, defending scientific values, making sure the world is full of cosmopolitans, protesting against great concentrations of power, protecting the environment, defending spaces for open-ended enquiry into the mysteries of self and society, probing history in its mercurial complexity, shoring up institutions as a bulwark against tyranny, and even making sure wine and cheese become dominant culinary options. Liberals are apparently so hegemonic that all of these values have triumphed.

The rise of the liberal is the downfall of India. If only liberals would disappear, India’s history would go better, all its economic problems would be solved, China would quake in its boots, rule of law would be restored, and no ethnic or religious divisions would divide India.

Of course, liberals are, so we thought, Homo sapiens. So, admittedly, individuals who profess to be liberal will often display a variety of human vices: Self-satisfaction, hypocrisy, sanctimoniousness, snobbery, self-interest, inertness, too much English, listening too little, instrumental behaviour, bad taste in fashion and sometimes even self-betrayal. Like the species in general, they could use more introspection as well. But, don’t be fooled. Liberal vice poses a special danger.

This is because the adherents of no other ideology display any of the liberals’ society shattering vices. The nationalist is pure goodness through and through, the epitome of all virtue, no possibility of any laal chheenta (stain of red) on their mulmul kurta; they often don’t even get the meaning of the term violence, so how can they possibly engage in it. The Marxists have historical necessity on their side so nothing can count as betrayal or hypocrisy: No red stain can make that red ideology redder. The non-Marxist Left claims to make radical claims on behalf of the poor. But once the poor are your cause and pretext, you are incapable of any misjudgement or corruption or vice.

The fundamentalists of all stripes, green or saffron, are custodians of divine purpose, where evil cannot even exist. Other assorted ideologues, whose single-point agenda is to be a custodian of some collective identity, caste, religion, or region, cannot even be wrong. If you have merged yourself into a larger collectivity, fused your identity with it, how can individual vice even arise? The Ambedkarites, whose cause has a core concern of justice behind it, might have some vices, but we have made sure they are so marginal we need not worry about them. Besides, if they can also be persuaded that liberals are brahaminical, they are also useful allies in ridding the world of liberals. And then there are the capitalists, whose triumphant progress liberals have apparently thwarted. But capitalists are defined by the efficient allocation of capitalism. Where is the room for vice or failing there? So now you know why liberals are dangerous. Their fault is not that they have vices. Their fault is more serious: They seem to be the only ones capable of vice.

Then there are these other things liberals do when it comes to toleration. They believe in diversity. But they refuse to acknowledge that it follows that the proposition two plus two equals seven should be of the same epistemic standing as the proposition two plus two equals four. This is twisted logic and intolerance. They want to protect individual freedom from the intolerant who would abridge rights. But this is also a specie of intolerance. They use arguments, sometimes overblown rhetoric, to condemn arguments they disagree with. But you see, this is as bad as using state power and the might of the law to supress freedom of expression.

Then, liberals apparently breed insecurity and victimhood in everyone, including apparently prime ministers and presidents. They are solely responsible for creating Hindu victimhood, something that apparently afflicts a group that is as large as 80 per cent of India’s population; they breed victimhood in a whole range of organisations like the RSS that claims millions of members; they breed the victimhood of the BJP that rules in a majority of the states; they breed victimhood in a prime minister whose qualities and achievements surpass Akbar and Nehru combined. These liberals are a menace. Their one word of criticism can bring a glorious civilisation to its knees. Liberalism is such a successful factory of victimhood that even the most dominant groups become victims when they encounter it.

Liberals are haughty, naughty and hegemonic. Their words are more destructive than any actual violence. Here is how you combat them: If they are sanctimonious, go for hypocrisy; if they defend individual freedom, you use collective narcissism; if they argue for a decent minimum welfare state, protest that they are flaming radicals; if they wish for clean air, just say they are anti-development; if they condemn lynchings or other virtues, just say they are intolerant; if they condemn one murder, just say they are partisan; if they claim knowledge, you shout ancient culture; if they say constitution, you say corruption; if they show concern for institutions, throw a leader at them; if they want a society where all kinds of beliefs — secular and religious, agnostic and atheist, can all enjoy their path to self-discovery — just yell anti-Hindu; if they want to minimise violence, just call them weaklings. All strategies you adopt to marginalise, malign, stigmatise liberals are justified. And if nothing else works, violence is also justified. Remember only they have small vices. We all have big causes.

Liberal bashing is so much fun: You can say both that liberals are not really liberal and bash them for being liberal if they actually are. With this strategy both left and right will join in. Even some liberals will join in. You see, if they don’t join in this liberal bashing, we can say liberals are dogmatic and the last thing a liberal wants to be accused of is dogmatism. So you know you have got them by their own tails. It is as easy as that: Liberals can be made extinct, the world will be cured of all its resentments and insecurities.

The writer is vice-chancellor of Ashoka University. Views are personal

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