First Dialogue on Liberalism
SOCRATES: Phaedo and I have been discussing the politics of your Republic, in an attempt to understand some of its more difficult concepts. We are currently studying “Liberalism”, but we cannot discover its essential nature, so we would like to propose a dialectical exercise to you. Let us have a dialogue in which each of us plays the part of a Liberal, discussing various subjects as Liberals would discuss them, and by this pretence we hope to increase our understanding of their philosophy.
GLEN: All right. What kind of Liberals are we going to be?
SOCRATES: Well, what are our choices? Prepare us a Liberal buffet, if you will.
GLEN: Well, you have Classical Liberals, Utilitarian Liberals, Keynesian Liberals, Social Democratic Liberals, Cold War Liberals, Post-Kennedy Liberals, New Age Liberals, East Coast Intellectual Liberals and West Coast Hedonist Liberals and Hornless Corn-fed Great Plains Liberals, and your endless varieties of Cultural Liberals …
PHAEDO: What are those Liberals who run around and have sex on your roof in the middle of the night?
GLEN: Cats, Phaedo. Those are cats.
SOCRATES: Let us take this approach. We’ve assembled a number of texts from your library that deal with Liberalism, and perhaps we can find a definitive model there. Up from Liberalism, by William F. Buckley. Down with Liberalism, by Ann Coulter. Over the Hills and Through the Woods to Grandmother’s House with Liberalism, by Hillary Rodham Clinton, with illustrations by Sidney Blumenthal …
GLEN: No, no, and no. Keep going.
SOCRATES: You sure? That last one got a National Book Award. It’s got a little gold thing on the cover, see? And the pictures are really cute.
GLEN: Yeah, I see that, but we need something more definitive.
SOCRATES: Okay, how about The 120 Days of Sodom by the Marquis de Sade?
GLEN: Pffft! What?
SOCRATES: Alcibiades suggested that one. He says it’s a bedtime story for pussy Liberals.
GLEN: No, that one is out, and anything else Alcibiades suggested is out, too.
SOCRATES: Science and British Liberalism, by Struan Jacobs. Virtue and the Making of Modern Liberalism, by Peter Berkowitz. And A Child’s Garden of Maoist Praxis, which contains a brief essay entitled “Combat Liberalism”.
GLEN: There you go. Mao is just what we’re looking for.
SOCRATES: Really? Is this book rich in the wisdom of the
GLEN: Maoism is so mind-blowingly rich in
SOCRATES: “Combat Liberalism” sounds like a cool kind of Liberalism, too.
PHAEDO: Can we do that one? Let’s do that one.
SOCRATES: Okay, here’s our definition, then: “People who are liberals look upon the principles of Marxism as abstract dogma. They talk Marxism but practice liberalism; they apply Marxism to others but liberalism to themselves.” How shall we enact this?
GLEN: You and I will be the Liberals, and we’ll apply the Marxism to Phaedo.
PHAEDO: Wait a minute – what?
SOCRATES: It’s just a dialectical exercise, Phaedo, to enrich Philosophy.
GLEN: Phaedo doesn’t care about Philosophy. He’s a poser.
PHAEDO: I am not a poser! I love Philosophy, I just don’t see why it has to be applied to me. And “Marxism” sounds like something Dionysius would do to a goat.
SOCRATES: The greater the discomfort, Phaedo, the greater the sacrifice for Philosophy. Okay, how do we apply the Marxism to him?
GLEN: Phaedo, we need you to build fifty radios by the end of the month.
PHAEDO: What? How am I supposed to do that?
GLEN: By volunteering to work day and night for nothing, in order to fulfill the glorious economic plan.
PHAEDO: Why would I volunteer to work day and night for nothing?
GLEN: Trust me, you just did. And if you keep complaining, you’re going to be volunteering for a self-criticism session.
SOCRATES: Okay, I’m a Liberal, too. What do I get to do?
GLEN: You tell people how happy Phaedo is to be building radios for us, and how much better off he is now that we’ve applied Marxism to him. Oh, and tell them that his literacy has improved.
SOCRATES: But all of those statements are false. Why would I tell people that?
GLEN: If anybody contradicts you, call them a McCarthyite and accuse them of questioning your patriotism.
SOCRATES: Okay. I’m not sure that Phaedo can build even one radio, though. He’s not very good with devices. He can’t even lift the toilet seat.
GLEN: The radios don’t have to work. He just has to build them, or else convince us that his manager is a saboteur who stole all the parts and sold them on the black market.
PHAEDO: But you already have a radio. Why do you want fifty radios?
GLEN: Because our capitalist neighbors have a radio, and if we have fifty it will prove the superiority of our Philosophy to theirs.
SOCRATES: It will? Okay. What will we do with so many radios?
GLEN: We’ll give Phaedo a free radio, of course, and we’ll open a store to sell the surplus radios.
SOCRATES: But who’s going to buy radios that don’t work?
GLEN: Phaedo. Who else?
PHAEDO: Wait a minute. I build all these radios for nothing, and then I have to go to your stupid store and buy them from you?
GLEN: First of all, it’s not my store, it’s the People’s Store. And second, from now on you’re only allowed to buy things from the People. No more shopping at Walmart.
PHAEDO: This sucks.
GLEN: Of course it sucks. That’s what’s so great about it. Absolutely nobody is going to profit from it.
SOCRATES: This is very interesting. But have we discovered any essential Liberal principles yet?
GLEN: Yes. “No shopping at Walmart.”
SOCRATES: Wow, this shit really works. Go, Combat Liberals!