big ideas

Noam Scheiber of The New Republic recognizes the problem, arguing that it’s impossible for liberals to invoke the common good whenever it’s convenient and ignore it when it’s not. It would be better for Democrats not to bring the idea up in the first place, he says, rather than go to the voters as the party fervently dedicated to advancing the common good—except when they aren’t. National health insurance, for example, can’t be mandated by the common good if abortion remains solely a question of inviolable privacy rights. But the latter position, clearly, is not open for discussion among liberals. At a recent forum of the liberal Center for American Progress, Rachel Laser, an abortion rights activist, said that 1.3 million abortions in America each year is too many. She reports that when she asked how many people in the room felt the same way, “It was only me and maybe one other who raised our hands.”

Ultimately, a public philosophy based on the common good won’t work unless it can make useful distinctions about what is and isn’t common, and what is and isn’t good. As it stands, common-good liberalism is just case-by-case liberalism on stilts. In the fight between those who say big ideas are indispensable to the resuscitation of liberalism and those who say big ideas are incompatible with the essence of liberalism, the scorecard shows that, so far, both sides are right.

more from Claremont Review here.