The Current

Liberalism is constantly under siege but always comes out on top, says author

Adam Gopnik, author of A Thousand Small Sanities: The Moral Adventure of Liberalism, believes liberals have nothing to apologize for.

'At any moment liberalism will look weak and ultimately, historically, it's proven to be strong': Adam Gopnik

Adam Gopnik, staff writer for the New Yorker, writes that small-l liberalism is widely misunderstood and liberals have nothing to apologise for. (Brigitte Lacombe)

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Small-l liberalism has always been an embattled political creed, but always comes out alive, according to writer Adam Gopnik.

"Historically, at any moment of crisis or high pressure, liberalism and liberal institutions have always looked incredibly weak," the New Yorker staff writer told Anna Maria Tremonti on The Current.

In the 1930s, for instance, when fascism was gaining traction in Europe, many British and French intellectuals theorized that liberal institutions would be "too weak to meet those challenges."

"At the end of the day those liberal institutions, those weak, compromised, uncertain, wishy-washy, 'love me, love me' institutions turned out to be remarkably strong and they defeated the totalitarian alternatives and built a better world. At any moment liberalism will look weak and ultimately, historically, it's proven to be strong."

We often overlook the accomplishments of liberalism.- Adam Gopnik

Small-l liberals — folks who hold liberal views but aren't necessarily members of their country's Liberal party, are the focus of Gopniks' latest book, A Thousand Small Sanities: The Moral Adventure of Liberalism.

The book explores the various ways in which liberalism has been "under daily attack" from all sides of the political spectrum in modern times.

The right wing, he said, attacks liberalism on the grounds that they're individualists, which destroys communities. The left wing, he continued, blame liberalism for exporting its atrocities outward and forcefully imposing their elitist values on the working class. 

"We often overlook the accomplishments of liberalism, the moral and the political accomplishments, exactly because when the liberal imagination is in power, it doesn't seem rhetorically [or] particularly shining. We have to wait until an illiberal moment to view it more accurately," he said.

Click 'listen' near the top of this page to hear the full conversation.

Produced by Howard Goldenthal.