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Liberalism Means Discrimination

I had never seen this quote from Leo Strauss before. It’s originally from Spinoza’s Critique of Religion, but I ran across it yesterday in Pierre Manent’s Democracy Without Nations (which I highly recommend).

Liberalism stands or falls by the distinction between state and society, or by the recognition of a private sphere, protected by the law but impervious to the law, with the understanding that, above all, religion as particular religion belongs to the private sphere. Just as certainly as the liberal state will not “discriminate” against its Jewish citizens, so it is constitutionally unable and even unwilling to prevent “discrimination” against Jews by individuals or groups. To recognize a private sphere in the sense indicated means to permit private “discrimination,” to protect it and thus in fact to foster it. The liberal state cannot provide a solution to the Jewish problem, for such a solution would require a legal prohibition against every kind of “discrimination,” i.e., the abolition of the private sphere, the denial of the difference between state and society, the destruction of the liberal state.

He means classical liberalism, of course. The conflict between that kind of liberalism and the traditional view of human nature as corrupt and sinful is well known, but the symmetrical conflict between classical liberalism and the progressive attitudes of most liberals themselves, classical as well as modern, gets less attention. This had nothing to do with the historic shift from classical to modern liberalism, but it has everything to do with the contortions of libertarians today, who, if they confront this problem at all, find themselves becoming more left-wing or more right-wing than the ideal image of liberalism allows: they become either liberal statists, which is a practical contradiction as far as classical liberalism is concerned, or else illiberal anti-statists, which seems like a psychological contradiction.

about the author

Daniel McCarthy is the editor of Modern Age: A Conservative Review, and Editor-at-Large of The American Conservative. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, USA Today, The Spectator, The National Interest, Reason, and many other publications. Outside of journalism he has worked as internet communications coordinator for the Ron Paul 2008 presidential campaign and as senior editor of ISI Books. He is a graduate of Washington University in St. Louis, where he studied classics. Follow him on Twitter.

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