In the West, we have all been liberals, of one sort or another, since at least the 18th century. Its victory has been total.
But from the foundational beliefs in liberty, equality, celebration of the individual and the consent of the governed, many political theories have been constructed. Liberalism has socialist and capitalist factions, as well as any number of socially moderated market models in between.
We have taken it for granted that liberty means personal, individual freedom to do and say exactly what we want, as long as it doesn’t hurt other people. This is the basis of pluralism, multiculturalism and diversity.
But there is a darker, egocentric and self-indulgent side to individualism. With the decline of religious belief in the west, access to the numinous, to transcendence, has been lost. The human consciousness has been thrown back on its own resources to find meaning.
Self-realisation, the quest for Eudaemonia, has come to be recognised as the highest good. We all seek to become the best version of ourselves, to live our best lives. An enlightened individual, and their sense of identity, has come to be the highest unit of value.
But to a cynic this is nothing more than self-indulgence. We have consecrated self-gratification as our most exalted purpose. Human existence has been reduced to omnivorous consumption – of enlightening ideas, of formative experiences, of educational opportunities to better ourselves, of entertainments that enhance our moods and pass the time, of delicious foods, of flattering fashions, of possessions that empower or satisfy or adorn.
And this is all so self-interested that it degrades the idea of community to the point that Mrs Thatcher could declare, to much right-wing approval, that “There is no such thing as society.”
We forget that we are herd animals, at our best and happiest in the physical presence of groups that recognise and value us. Spending time with these accepting people can be mysteriously and profoundly satisfying (although we are all, undeniably, creatures of appetite and yearning and will thus never find complete fulfilment.)
To deny that, to focus solely on our own personal development leads to alienation and loneliness and misanthropic ennui and black despair.
And the bizarre and groundless self-invented identities and labels we come up with cannot substitute for that lack of deeper nourishment. And the “Communities” of like-minded “Transgressives”, attenuated trans-continental webs of electronic data, tiny, equally miserable faces on your screen, will not provide you with the support you need.