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II.: THE BALANCE OF LIBERALISM - Kenneth Minogue, The Liberal Mind 
The Liberal Mind, (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2000).
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THE BALANCE OF LIBERALISM
A concern with truth has long been a characteristic of western civilization. Liberalism arose when this passion for truth took on a new intensity and many new directions. Truth has no gaps, and a concern with it is likely to make us disputatious and quarrelsome. There is no more liberal figure than the muckraker, the man who dredges up facts that everyone else—and especially the powerful—would much rather forget. Liberal political argument has always defended passionately the work of those individuals who from the beginning of the modern era challenged the mistakes of orthodoxy. Not, indeed, that such individuals cared very much for truth in the abstract. Nor were they very much different from other men in the ordinary conduct of their lives. But in a number of fields, in religion, in science, in exploration, they were capable of pursuing the urge to find out with enormous persistence and ingenuity. And they were enterprising as individuals, alone or organizing themselves into groups for the pursuit of profit or the salvation of their souls, creating new political forms even within the framework of established authority.
Yet liberalism is subject to a number of illusions. In spite of its deep involvement with truth, it is, like any other ideology, prone to subject its view of the way things are to a hopeful picture of the way it would be nice for things to be. We have examined a number of these illusions: the belief in a rational harmony, the illusion of ultimate agreement, and, perhaps most central of all, the idea that will and desire can ultimately be sovereign in human affairs, that things will eventually pan out the way we want them to. The issue that arises within liberalism is often one between truth on the one hand and improvement or utility on the other. This is simply to restate the persistent dichotomy which we have already detected in the liberal mind.
How can we explain this dichotomy? Only by recognizing clearly that a passion for truth, carried beyond convenience, is likely to provoke the most violent social opposition and political repression. For truth assaults consciences, disrupts vested interests, outmodes profitable practices and undermines the myths and illusions which sustain powerful institutions and corporations. Those who, in any field, are driven on to discover what is the case, who wish to conduct experiments or sail unknown seas, must therefore make their way in a largely hostile world. They can only do so by offering bargains and making alliances— offering vastly greater convenience in the future as an incentive to accept inconvenience in the present. The men of enterprise could offer the by-products of their work: the silver of the Indies for three ships with convict crews; immunity from Papal regulations for the opportunity to assert unorthodox religious truth; inventions and riches in return for the opportunities of enterprise.
More generally, to encourage others and to give themselves courage, the new men could offer the vision of a new world, never more than a couple of generations away, in which life would be richer, more comfortable and more rational. The fear of change and instability could be allayed by the promise of a point of rest some time in the future; and meanwhile installments of improvement were steadily provided.
This kind of utopianism arose out of the belief that setting forth on a voyage of discovery in search of truth was a finite enterprise; and truth was a finite collection of facts. If so, it was not entirely foolish to imagine that one day the search would come to an end. It was, in any case, explicitly limited to the things of this world. The advance of science depended on lulling the custodians of religion into the belief that the scientific spirit could be limited, and propagandists of the movement—most notably Bacon and Locke—were keen to insist upon the limits of natural reason. They did so with perfect sincerity, for their belief in reason implied both the possibilities and the limits of knowledge. From their day to this, we have seldom been free of the belief that the moment of imminent fruition is upon us; that all the important or relevant knowledge has been garnered, and that only the job of application to improving the world remains.
To a large extent, the preoccupation with utopia was the result of fear. In times of high self-confidence, when the exhilaration of truth-seeking was upon men, and when improvement was perceptible, men could even contemplate the indefinite continuance of this process; out of this self-confidence came the doctrine of progress. But the kind of social condition in which criticism and truth-seeking are regularly prosecuted can also induce the fear that things have gotten out of control—a fear which evangelists are especially prone to encourage. All this, it is said, comes of man trying to ape God. There is no one so repentant as a sorcerer’s apprentice who suddenly realizes his experiments in sorcery may be the death of him.
From the alternation of these two clusters of emotions emerge what we have called the salvationist and the libertarian strands of liberalism. When fear is in the ascendant, we may expect an overriding concern with security, harmony, equality;4 exhilaration will lead to a stress on freedom, enterprise and competition.
The shifting balance of liberalism is also affected by the fact that it has always encouraged the entry of outsiders into its benefits. These outsiders stand some distance outside the community. They are victims in the suffering situation. They are the people described in the inscription on the Statue of Liberty. They are a non-possessing class, though what it is they do not possess depends upon the terms of current political controversy. And they have been given a moral dimension by the use of the Marxist concept of alienation. Liberal politicians have always called on their support as foot-soldiers in a steady assault upon the entrenched positions of “reaction.” These outsiders are of two kinds. In liberal countries, they are largely those classes who, for many centuries after the development and fruition of liberalism, continued to live in a thoroughly traditional manner, and who were only driven from their shelters by the ferocious inroads of industrial development. They are the European working classes. In the twentieth century, a larger and even more significant group of outsiders has appeared upon the scene—the entire populations of non-European countries, who are enthusiastic about the products of the European world, but who have a very hazy notion of the moral characteristics on which that world is based. But to talk in these terms necessarily gives a crude result, for we find in all the classes of outsiders many individuals with a liberal moral character, just as we find among European liberals of long pedigree many in whom fear of change is the dominant emotion.
What is at stake in the shifting balance between fear and exhilaration, between truth and utility, is the fate of truth itself. For improvement will be cultivated under any circumstances, but the moral character of truth-seeking is one which did not always play a prominent part in the world’s affairs, and could return to obscurity. Whenever men have, in recent history, attempted to snatch at political salvation, it is truth which has always been the first casualty, since, of all the causes of human turmoil, facts are the most obvious, and therefore the first to be suppressed. The more we dream of utopia, the less we can bear to face our imperfections.
The psychological relations between truth and improvement, between the way things are and the way we would like them to be, between fact and value, are no doubt extremely complicated. They differ from one individual to another. One man may be stimulated by the hope of improvement into an extremely vigorous rapport with reality, whilst another may be drawn further and further into fantasy. There will certainly be many occasions when a deep involvement with our own hopes and desires will lead us to miscalculate; and this is particularly true in moral and political affairs, where other people know well how they may play upon our hopes and fears.5
Again, a concern with the truth about our own character and desires—a concern with moral truth—very considerably affects the things we value. We are, as individuals, liable to get caught up in pretenses whose charm vanishes at the touch of reality. Whole nations may be similarly deluded: Mussolini’s armies awoke from their dreams of imperial grandeur in the Western Desert. But even while the pretense lasts, those involved will suffer the anxieties of imperfect imitation.
We may at any given time measure the vitality of liberalism by looking to the balance between truth and improvement; by looking to see if we find a tough-minded recognition of the facts, and a consequent rejection of the comforting, the face-saving, the prestigious, the boastful, and the unrealistically hopeful: looking, in fact, at the strength of political and moral fantasy. We shall always find some hope of release from the inevitable ferment which truth creates. In this kind of salvationism, we shall recognize a radical misunderstanding both of politics and of truth-seeking: the belief that politics will put an end to the necessity for politics, and that the acquisition of knowledge will put an end to the search for truth. And if salvationism is strong, we may well suspect that the balance of liberalism is in danger.
There are, currently, a number of indications of this kind. One is a widespread preoccupation with national prestige. Another is a nostalgia for great causes, often part of the moral débris left by great wars. But perhaps the most interesting of these indications and the one which nourishes the greatest hope of salvation is the idea that the final task before us is the rapid improvement of the “underdeveloped” countries. Certainly this is the most widespread source of modern political fantasy. The whole concept of “underdevelopment” is, of course, one which must be treated with great wariness. It lumps together a most heterogeneous collection of peoples and States, in a manner which tempts us to treat this similarity as the most crucial fact about them. It not only describes these States; it suggests a policy for them. And, to justify this moral imperative, liberals have attributed to the underdeveloped countries a curious kind of moral innocence. The under-nourished are set up as judges of our behavior.
Liberals at the present time find themselves poised between hope and fear. The hope arises from man’s increasing command over nature, and is nourished by the realization that the domestic opponents of liberalism have either been extinguished or converted. The fear is symbolized by the possibility that before we quite enter into the comfortable kingdom of universal self-realization, we shall all be blown up. But both the hope and the fear are salvationist emotions; both are alien to the passion for truth which has long infused the liberal mind. It is salvationism which lies behind the target-setting and loin-girding of contemporary political discussion; and the habit of exhortation is so strong that we seem to imagine that every problem can be solved by resolving to do better. But the case of truth is like that of freedom and that of happiness: we cannot will ourselves to love it. We will not affect the fate of truth by making resolutions to face the facts and exhorting others to do likewise; but we may affect its fate by trying to understand why such resolutions fail.
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[4. ]A policy of radical equalization only makes sense if we think we have reached the end of the road, when rewards need have no relation to contribution. One cannot cut the cake until it is baked. One may also suspect that a wide distribution of benefits morally involves everyone in the economic and social system; it distributes not only the gilt, but also the guilt.
[5. ]Modern totalitarian States, for example, have perfected a technique of playing on the hopes of democratic peoples at precisely those moments when they are being most aggressive, e.g. “We are stretching out a hand of friendship to the people and Government of the United States. We should like to pool our efforts with the United States Government and with other governments to solve all ripe international problems, to safeguard peace on earth.” This from a Russian statement at precisely the moment of a large Russian arms build-up in Cuba. (Times, 12.9.62.)