I call myself a liberal because I can’t help thinking that people should have a reasonably equal chance of leading a satisfying life and that democratic government is generally the best, and often the only, way to see that they do. Although I’ve had some highly specialized training in law and political philosophy, my liberalism has always mostly been a matter of the common sense I’ve acquired in the company of liberals. All other things being equal, whatever other reasonable liberals think about an issue has always counted in my eyes as a good, if not always a sufficient, reason for thinking the same thing.
Now I’m not so sure. A lot of the political reflexes liberals have in common are making less sense to me all the time. My first dispiriting thought was that I was growing more conservative in doddering middle age. But when I took stock of my positions on the issues of the day I was relieved to find that they're still uniformly liberal. On matters of substance, my liberal credentials are pretty solid.
My problem isn’t so much with what liberals think, but with how they think. I find conservative politics largely intelligible; conservatives act much as I would if I had their values. Yet the way liberals who share my core political commitments understand themselves is increasingly a mystery to me. The language of liberalism is becoming foreign to me; if I set my mind to it, I can usually manage to sound like native-speaker, but I'm having an ever-harder time thinking about politics in liberal terms.
That’s what I mean when I say I have one foot outside the liberal tent. My estrangement isn't something I celebrate. Politics is a team game, and not only in the sense that people act together to advance a political agenda. They also think together by situating themselves in ideological communities. The acuity of anyone's political deliberation is always importantly a function of the deliberation of one's political community. When it comes to politics, thinking entirely for yourself isn't just overrated, it's impossible.
I’ve started this blog because I’m wondering whether other people, recognizing my predicament as their own, are trying to find a way to plant both feet back inside the liberal tent, either by revising what they think or changing the tent's contours. Let’s see how it goes.