Dear friends and family:
It is with a heavy heart that I bring this message to you.
Some of us have spoken to the content that follows in person. This is for the rest of you, who have been wondering about the nature of my identity for some time now. I must say, I too have wondered. A closet is a terribly cold, dark place and its claustrophobic nature obfuscates thought, especially reflexive thought. I will stand in such a place no longer.
I, Julius Hanlan Cosby, am a liberal.
I have spent many years at a school with a strong Marxist bent. In moments of solidarity some of you were shocked to learn I was no Marxist. Now that I’ve said what I truly am, you should know firstly that it took me nearly four years of being a vegetarian in order for me to be comfortable with that term. I suppose I was always scared of what the great philosopher Wayne Campbell once said: “if you label me, you negate me.” But as it came to pass with vegetarian, I no longer fear this label of ‘liberal’. If it represents negation, then negate away!
At a psychological level, there are competing logics in my head. I do not believe in history as progress; I think that social contract theory is an empty shell of itself; and the idea of painting people as solely rational utility maximizers dehumanizes. The primacy of the individual in a collectivity is absurd. But poor philosophical and historicist grounds of standard run-of-the-John-Stuart-Mill liberalism aren’t enough to push me into a different camp.
What is popular is not always best – one word friends, Nickelback – and that is why I’m not strictly a democrat. Aristotle had it right millennia ago when he argued that the best political system is a mixed one. I want a conservative judiciary, but I want universities that train progressive lawyers with social consciences. I want a powerful House of Commons, but I want the sober second look of an Upper House (I suppose I would ideally prefer a more horizontal as opposed to vertical approach to viewing it). I want a powerful state: not so that it can peek into the bedroom of my neighbour or tell me what to put into my body, but as an instrument of good.
Does this make me an elitist? Well I believe in strongly in the power of unions, democratic unions. The union ought to be one of the most powerful expressions of democracy in our society. Often, it is as centralized and bureaucratic – and therefore loathed – as the corporations they oppose. As much as feasible, workers should control their destiny.
Am I committed to social justice? Yes. Should this be an indictment of me as a Bourgeois apologist? I think not. When I hear some Marxists representing an ethos of the ‘old boys club’ it makes me sick. This is no way indicts all Marxists. But if you can’t respect the rights of someone other than rich white straight men, for the sole reason that other rich white straight men historically came up with these rights, you are in a eddy of logic that escapes me. If the Revolution succeeded, but as a result turned back liberal ideas of equality, then would it be worth it? I have asked myself that question over and over again, and I still can’t find a calculus that would have me answer in the affirmative.
There are many of you who will poke holes in the positions I have sketched out here. As always I sincerely welcome the debate. I am still a skeptic, by very nature conservative, but I also want to be intellectually honest.
And ultimately, I don’t want things to change between us. If we meet in the locker room of the Historical Materialism conference, I don’t want things to be awkward. It’s me guys: the same old Jules I’ve always been!
And so as I warily take these difficult steps out of a closet I can no longer bear, I leave with one final refrain:
Love me, love me, love me:
I’m a liberal.