Could Climate Change Kill Liberalism?

The best way to preserve the red, white, and blue is by going green now

| January-February 2011

  • climate-change-kill-liberalism

  • climate-change-kill-liberalism

Liberalism in the classical sense isn’t the opposite of conservativism but rather “the proposition that we’re all free to do as we please, other than to impede the freedoms of others,” writes Timothy Ferris in the Future Issue of The Oxford American (#70).

“An independent political philosophy with no inherent ties to either the left or the right,” he explains, “liberalism forms the basis of liberal democracy, the most popular and successful form of governance ever deployed.”

Liberalism has been widely embraced, posits Ferris, with most Americans sharing basic classical liberal beliefs and liberal democracies comprising “nearly half of all humanity.” But one thing could be its undoing: catastrophic climate change.

“The liberal democracies have already demonstrated a disturbing tendency to revert to authoritarianism in times of emergency,” he notes, citing Abraham Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus during the Civil War, FDR’s confinement of Japanese Americans in concentration camps during World War II, and George W. Bush’s disregard for due process at Guantánamo Bay.

The next emergency, he suggests, is imminent: “Too many conservatives think global warming can be dismissed as a socialist conspiracy. Too many progressives agree with the 90-year-old ecologist James Lovelock that ‘it may be necessary to put democracy on hold for a while’ in order to deal with global warming. There is a real danger of our running aground between these two big, ignorant, smug schools of thought—and a real need for those who comprehend the threat to start speaking out more forcefully about it.”

In other words, the best way to preserve the red, white, and blue is by going green now.

Jeffrey Fried
2/21/2011 5:39:20 PM

After reading some very thoughtful comments, this may sound a bit like more conspiracy, but isn't it to the advantage of conservatives to ignore global warming? By ignoring it until the catastrophe is obvious, they can then use the catastrophe as justification for all kinds of anti-democratic policies. Before you reject this idea, consider for a moment what is happening because of the financial crisis caused by the institutes run by the most wealthy, and often conservative, of the US. They are using the recession they caused, that has impoverished so many of the middle class, to justify removing social programs, saying that increasing taxes to a reasonable level on the wealthy who caused this problem is wrong, but taking it out of the hide of the poor and disenfranchised is just fine.

1/24/2011 11:20:53 AM

The economic version of liberalism, called neoliberalism, touts the invisible hand (in your pocket) as the best and sole regulator. Its success in the US was/is shown in Great Depression II, starting 2008 {though it began about 1970 with the end of increasing hourly wages in both Britain and America]. Currently, the most successful nation using neoliberal capitalism is Communist China, not by accident. Despite the propaganda about leaving folks alone, neo-liberal ideologues have looked fondly upon colonial empires, unending panics- runs-crashes-depressions, huge military buildups for neo-colonial adventures, close control of State apparatus for corporate profit, and all the other unfreedoms of its history. In reality, nothing I do leaves you alone; we are ecosystems co-living in ecosystems, and individualist propaganda serves not masses but masters. Antique ideology like liberalism is revived daily to benefit, not an essay or a people, but a dying lifestyle.

Pete Hart
1/24/2011 11:09:49 AM

"Too many progressives agree with the 90-year-old ecologist James Lovelock that ‘it may be necessary to put democracy on hold for a while’ in order to deal with global warming." I realize that there are no widely accepted definitions of what a "liberal" or a "progressive" actually is, but I don't see how Utne can make the above statement without further explanation or qualification. From reading most left/liberal/progressive bloggers and individuals posting in reply, democracy, however cumbersome, is what we really need. The problem is whether democracy has ever truly existed in this country. Yes, we've had the trappings, but hardly ever the reality -- through most of our history people have let politicians posture and misinform instead of govern and lead. And, tragically through our history, big corporate interests have had more and more control over our political process. How can one talk about democracy without discussing the dominance of corporate influence?

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