No mushy middle: Adam Gopnik defends liberalism in this 'dangerous historic moment'
Core values of liberal democracy are under assault just as it was in the 1930s, argues writer
It "isn't sexy. It isn't necessarily glamorous." It's also criticized by both conservatives and leftists.
Known for his erudite essays and profiles for The New Yorker magazine, Adam Gopnik has been reflecting on liberalism both personally and professionally for a recent book, A Thousand Small Sanities: The Moral Adventure of Liberalism.
Despite what the term suggests in Canada, "liberalism" is not tied to any one political party. Gopnik explains that it is a robust — if embattled — set of values and institutions that honours both individual freedom and social inclusion.
He describes both the large and small practices that are under attack in a world tilting increasingly toward authoritarian regimes. Liberalism supports "free elections, fair procedures, (and) the rule of law — meaning an idea of justice that is not simply responsive to the whims of a tyrant."
Liberalism means "open universities...where people can speak and write dissenting ideas without fear of being censored or squelched."
Gopnik warns that "we are witnessing how incredibly fragile those practices and institutions are" through the rapid rise of ethnic nationalism, and disdain for democratic systems worldwide.
But in examples as disparate as the recent Hong Kong street protests and the coffeehouses of Tehran, Adam Gopnik sees people standing up for their collective right to speak and act freely.
He told IDEAS host Nahlah Ayed how living in these times of political crises have affected his own life. He's had ongoing discussions about liberalism with his daughter, as she grapples with living in America during a Trump presidency, and attending college in an era of heated — often acrimonious — debates around free speech.
Adam Gopnik's own work has changed, too. He says he's turned away from writing mostly about "the manners of middle class life, to writing about politics and political philosophy," since he feels "our citizenship has to take precedence even over our artistry."
The LaFontaine-Baldwin Lecture was held as part of 6 Degrees Toronto, the global forum for inclusion. The annual event is a project of the Institute for Canadian Citizenship.
* This episode was produced by Lisa Godfrey.