The Paradox of Liberalism

Anyone who calls themselves a liberal will, at some point in their lives, be faced with the inevitable conflict that comes with the idea of liberalism. What happens when liberal values go against liberal values?

A recent discussion in my AP US History class followed by an article written by New York Times op-ed columnist Nicholas Kristof titled “The Liberal Blind Spot” has sparked something in my far-from-conservative mind. While my beliefs are still developing, I am inclined to call myself a liberal, given my adolescent understanding of political and social values. On one end of the liberal spectrum lies the belief in tolerance and respect of other ideas and cultures. On the other end of the spectrum exist the less abstract views such as LGBT rights and feminism. These are movements supporting humanity and equality. But what happens when a culture you are supposed to respect disrespects your other beliefs?

Redesign Your Cause: Nicholas D. Kristof
Nicholas D. Kristof, Columnist, The New York Times, USA is captured during the session ‘Redesign Your Cause’ of the Annual Meeting 2010 of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 30, 2010. Copyright by World Economic Forum swiss-image.ch/Photo by Monika Flueckiger

To put it simply (although no amount of abridgment of this concept will ever make it uncomplicated), how can liberals value tolerance when they do not tolerate or believe in conservative values? Internal conflict arises when the “aim to respect, ” professed by a culture’s liberal contingent, stands in opposition to its other values. The problem is no longer the existence of conservative thinking, but rather the opposition within liberals themselves that derives from reluctance to consider other points of view. 

After reading Kristof’s article, my initial reaction was to disagree with his statement that liberals can be just as bigoted as conservatives. On an impulse, I was inclined to defend my leftist beliefs in all their glory. I began to write this article with a sense of self-righteousness; I had achieved the careful construction of about two sentences when I realized I had no argument. Because, in fact, Kristof is not wrong. While his argument is more precise in its intention of focusing on campuses in America, the foundation of his claim remains true: this conflict is something liberals will always have to deal with. It is a choice we will have to make every day.

I do disagree with Kristof in one aspect, however. He painted this so-called “Liberal Blind Spot” in a negative light. His depiction of this contradictory theory in liberalism accused all liberals, including himself, of bigotry.  Feeling singled out among this group of “cocky” and “narrow-minded” people, I now find myself confused. Is it wrong of me to be put off by homophobes or sexists? Is it wrong of me to be enraged by the racist views of others? The way Kristof explains it… yes. I understand the inherent hypocrisy underlying my liberal standpoint. But I will not be apologetic for disagreeing with those who promote ideas I deem hateful, immoral, or detrimental to society. 

Kristof writes, “stereotyping and discrimination are wrong, whether against gays or Muslims, or against conservatives or evangelicals. We shouldn’t define one as bigotry and the other as enlightenment.” This is where I, as a liberal, display my blind spot or, in my opinion, a strength. Bigotry, to my potentially blind eyes, is intolerance based on prejudice and ignorance. There are those who dispute beliefs without making calculated, informed decisions about them. And then there are those who weigh the pros and cons, who explore the many facets of a topic before expressing an opinion on it.  From now on, I will strive to be among the latter.

Author: Diya Navlakha

Diya Navlakha is a junior in her tenth year at SAS. This is her second year as a part of The Eye. While originally from India, Diya spent her childhood in New York City and Singapore. A few of her hobbies include watching "Friends", baking, and spending time with friends and family. She can be contacted at navlakha33815@sas.edu.sg.

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