The rise of the liberal left is something I have watched with alarm during 40 years in academia. There are many reasons for this, but the greatest has been the sustained attack on the ideals of the Enlightenment which, ironically, were embraced by Karl Marx. He would almost certainly have treated ‘woke-folk’ with contempt.
The problem lies heavily in our failure to understand properly the original premises of our Enlightenment heritage. The ideals you refer to (“The threat from the illiberal left”’ September 4th) are those mostly fully developed by Adam Smith as a moral philosopher (not as an economist). Smith’s mentor and teachers was Francis Hutcheson whose influence is most clearly seen in Smith’s first book “The Theory of Moral Sentiments” where he builds on Hutcheson’s arguments against greed and self-interest. The original reasoning in favour of individual freedom and liberty was to enable people to develop their talents both for their own self-worth and for the good of the community.
Hutcheson was equally scathing on rights, which could quickly become a cover for greed and selfishness. Hence Hutcheson posited that ‘rights’ must always be balanced against the virtue of an act, or its effect on others. This is an important moral corrective that is continually ignored in our pursuit of narrow individual or identity-group rights.
(Published in The Economist, Sept 2021)