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Martin Peretz in Not Much Left says what many have been saying for a while: that Liberalism is out of ideas. The curious thing about his intelligent and literate essay is that he never manages to explain why this condition has taken place.
I think it was John Kenneth Galbraith, speaking in the early 1960s, the high point of post-New Deal liberalism, who pronounced conservatism dead. Conservatism, he said, was "bookless," ... At this point in history, it is liberalism upon which such judgments are rendered. And understandably so. It is liberalism that is now bookless and dying. ... Liberalism now needs to be liberated from many of its own illusions and delusions. Let's hope we still have the strength.
Liberalism has lost its books because it has burned them. The campaign to dismiss Harvard President Larry Summers for remarking that women may have less aptitude than men for mathematics and sciences is a case in point. The Boston Globe reports:
Late yesterday, one of Harvard's most famous faculty members, law professor Alan Dershowitz, issued a statement backing Summers's presidency, in which he said the storm of opposition "sounds like the trial of Galileo. In my 41 years at Harvard, I have never experienced a president more open to debate, disagreement, and dialogue than Larry Summers," wrote Dershowitz, adding that "professors who are afraid to challenge him are guilty of cowardice."
Dershowitz noted that he disagreed with Summers's comments last month that innate differences might help explain why more men than women are top achievers in science and math, but he defended the university president's right to raise the proposition. "This is truly a time of crisis for Harvard," he wrote. "The crisis is over whether a politically correct straightjacket will be placed over the thinking of everybody in this institution by one segment of the faculty."
Paradoxically, dogmatism is rooted in relativism more than in the belief that real truth is discoverable. For as long as the truth is believed to be "out there"; it will be sought. When its existence is doubted none will venture into the dark. Under those conditions, we get exactly what Peretz describes: an illogical attachment to old formulations of the 1960s, which can be uttered only because they are hallowed.