Obama at Selma Saul Loeb/Getty Images

Liberals to the Barricades

Liberal democracy is humankind’s greatest political achievement, but liberal democrats around the world are reluctant to make the case for it. No wonder they are losing the battle for citizens’ hearts and minds.

SANTIAGO – From Austria, France and the United States, to Poland, the Philippines, and Peru, illiberal populists are on the rise. Some blame runaway globalization; others blame income inequality; still others blame out-of-touch elites who simply don’t get it.

Such explanations – however plausible they may be – miss the larger point. The problem is political, not just economic. Liberal democracy is humankind’s greatest political achievement. Yet liberal democrats around the world are reluctant to make the case for it. No wonder they are losing the battle for citizens’ hearts and minds.

The problem is far from new. In fact, it is at the very root of liberalism. Wary of censorship or oppression, liberal thinkers have more often than not espoused moral neutrality: they do not advocate a single set of values, or a particular definition of what constitutes a good life. A liberal society – almost by definition – enables its citizens to lead any life they wish, as long as third parties suffer no harm.

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