Has ‘Liberal Proceduralism’ Evaporated and What Difference Does It Make?

Another note on the dust-up between Sohrab Ahmari and David French. It has to do with what is called ‘liberal proceduralism.’ Alan Jacobs describes it this way: “Proceduralism depends on the belief that my fellow citizens, while often wrong, indeed in some cases profoundly wrong, can be negotiated with. It depends on the belief that, while a world made precisely in my image may not be in the cards, if I and my fellow citizens agree to be bound by a common set of norms, then we can probably negotiate a tolerable social order. It depends on the belief that people whose politics differ from my own are not ipso facto evil, nor do they need to be pushed to the margins of society or forced out of it altogether.” Such proceduralism holds in common such principles as: everyone agrees to resolve their disagreements through democratic processes; free speech, (which also included speech that is not compelled); there is no religious test for who is allowed to the table; losers in elections will concede;, etc. Political outcomes are legitimate if they trace to such a process.

Ahmari believes that the left (though not all the left) no longer plays by those rules. It is “crush at any cost, by any means.” Today’s secular left, he is convinced, has no intention of playing fair, and if conservatives insist on playing by the discarded rules, they’re just setting themselves to be played for suckers.

David French still has faith that liberal proceduralism sets the table for political discussion and decision. After all, he asserts, Judge Kavanaugh did receive the votes needed to the on the Supreme Court. But even if the left has largely abandoned these principles, French asserts that a Christian is bound by those rules because they express Christian principles.

Rod Dreher chimes in, “It isn’t easy to critique the persona of someone as nice as French. Then again, it is in part that earnest and insistently polite quality of his that I find unsuitable to the depth of the present crisis facing religious conservatives. Which is why I recently quipped on Twitter that there is no ‘polite, David French-ian way around the culture war.”

The gist of Ahmari’s argument is that French is a classic liberal, who argues in terms suited to classical liberalism. But class liberalism is a dead end for Christians, and is nothing more than a way of negotiating our complete surrender to those who hate us and what we stand for. To keep ceding ground to those who have no intentional at all of tolerating us is a fool’s errand.

I think this difference in view concerning liberal proceduralism is now the fork in the road. Depending on how you see it, you will rely on the old tools or add to your toolbox those approaches which are ‘gloves off.’ What actually ‘gloves off’ means is yet to be determined, though Ahmari and some of the commentators at First Things see an example in Trump, who is willing to use the power of the government to push back the pirates of the left.

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