June 28, 2017

John Milbank: What liberal intellectuals get wrong about transgenderism

Most people instinctively feel threatened by the postmodern redefinition of gender. Their instincts are correct.

The populist voter insurgencies of 2016 are complex, but one important aspect of them is the rejection of a seamless liberal order and worldview. Despite its unbearable claims to be the only possible worldview, liberalism has been rejected because it does not work for the majority of people. And just as liberal economics are now being questioned, so are liberalism’s cultural and ethical assumptions – in a way that the highly intelligent liberal Richard Rorty prophesied 20 years ago.

The backlash against liberalism

Liberals have too casually spoken as if being white, male and heterosexual were in itself a cause for suspicion, rather than a condition that white heterosexual males cannot help. So liberals should not be surprised if they now face a backlash from ordinary, not very successful WHMs who have dangerously started to think of themselves as a threatened “identity”.

This “whitelash” may well sometimes take on unpleasant forms of racial prejudice, misogyny, dislike of all Muslims, nationalism, even anti-semitism and so forth. But more commonly it is a reaction to liberals’ tendency to obsess over their favourite issues to the neglect of what the majority needs: family, community and work security along with a sense of cultural identity. (An identity that is all the more precious to the less-privileged, and often the key to their survival.) Too often liberals can sound not just as if they do not care about these things, but even as if they should be disparaged.

What is more, it is possible that liberals have too easily assumed that there exists a new consensus over abortion rights, euthanasia rights, gay marriage, transgender issues and positive discrimination (as opposed to formal equal access) for women and racial minorities. In reality, it may well be that a large number of people either reject or have doubts about these things, but feel that it is no longer acceptable to say so. Their real views perhaps emerged anonymously as one aspect of the votes for Brexit and for Trump …

Read the rest at The Catholic Herald. John Milbank is an Anglican theologian and President of the Centre of Theology and Philosophy at the University of Nottingham.

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