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History was over. The Great Ideological Battle was finished. The Victor was triumphant for Eternity.

A simplification as old as Ahura Mazda, the great Persian creator god.

Liberalism and Capitalism had triumphed. The priority of the right over the good had been assured. Now we would live peacefully in the Joy this would bring. The forces arrayed by chaos/evil against those of order/good had been decisively won by the forces of good. 

Of course now we know this was a fantasy, wishful thinking not unforgivable in the afterglow of the fall of the Berlin War. In that moment perhaps the panorama of history was truly open to such a radical interpretation of victory. If an axis disappeared in a bipolar world, then there could only be one person left, who must be default take as his own the prize.

Instead we formulated another vision of reality. We saw the world as it was again, free of distorting ideological lenses forced on us by competing superpowers. Free of a compression that reduced all world views to left and right. Communist and capitalist. Free and unfree. Good and Evil.

This was a localized view, a world where cultures and religions mattered. Where regionality and geography mattered. A world of eternal conflict based on the clash of civilizations. Ahura Mazda indeed; the unending battle against Evil.

Redefining Evil so that we could find it to fight again. How would we know who was good if there was no Evil to contrast it with?

Returning back where we started, fighting amongst differing conceptions of the good, seeking to impose our own views on others and to remake the world in our own image.

Amidst all of this I never questioned the central role of liberalism as a political philosophy. I saw the rise of civilizations, of empires, based on culture or religious beliefs but never considered that western liberalism might be a civilization, based on religious and cultural roots. 

Yet now it seems so obvious.

Of course it is.

It’s just a subtly different one.

Shared political roots are what ties this civilization together. Share. Interlocked with certain perspectives about religion, intertwined with a religion that stressed thinking rather than doing and when attached to a polity necessarily more free then feudal.

This was our most vibrant and powerful Civilization. So powerful that it claimed to be universal. As Xerxes before had claimed that the Creed of Ahura Mazda was, for the necessary and incidental glory of the Persian Empire. So powerful in fact that in its age of empire it stretched from sunrise to sunrise. So dominant that it maintained this great reach for nearly 300 years.

Even today, arguing the non-universal nature of liberalism is something that hasn’t found its way into the heart of the political debate. The Communitarian critics may have made their arguments, but they have not pervaded the popular conscious in the way that the arguments of icons such as Bentham, Mill, Rousseau and Rawls have. We have embedded ourselves firmly into the State, made legitimate by the contract it forms with its inhabitants. We have clothed ourselves in the assumptions of the liberal impulse.

Its becoming clear to me that the assumptions of Liberalism are stark and . Reading Sandel makes the Rawlsian ones shine out. But at a intuitive level for me, I find myself unable to accept the priority of right over good, preferring to invert the mechanism personally or at least to balance them out. I’m also not a keen fan of the social contract, the hypotheticals it requires to exist (which Sandel is quick to point out) and that leaves no from of liberalism as viable. On the other hand the radical libertarian twist of Nozick is equally unappealing.

Some via media would perhaps command respect but a liberal theory not found in some original position, either a state of nature or social contract, seems to be non – existent.

What we talk about instead is the legitimacy of democracy – of participation not the end result.  We sanctify the process. But the process is just a means, it cannot assure us of an ends, and what we must sanctify are the ends. The plurality and tolerance that we seek to enshrine as values do not occur naturally to people. Which is why the western world is so often disappointed when it comes to the outcome of foreign elections such as that of Hamas in Palestine.

What we need are the assumptions of Liberalism to be universally accepted to even begin spreading democracy to other countries. If we can’t get them to accept the tolerance then spreading democracy is a futile exercise. We end up with the donkey democracy. The Democratic Republic of Congo – a ruthless dictatorship the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea – the ultimate in loony dictatorships. The staged elections that happen in Egypt, the parody of the process that was the Nigerian Presidential Election.

Yet amongst all the cultural exports of the West, the most tenuous has been the small “L” liberal. Because what they’re exporting is the whole. A whole set of assumptions, values, behaviors, perspectives and beliefs. And nothing so wholesale can ever be exported. People do not adopt the culture fully of foreign people in their own lands. They modify it. They take selectively what they wish. They adapt it. They pick the attributes that maybe grant them the fastest results. Or the most easily identifiable ones.

There can be no uptake of Liberalism, because Liberalism is a culture that is complete internally and entirely extrinsic externally. And people don’t adopt foreign customs in their native land.