Tribalism at work

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The Wall Street Journal editorial section (January 3, 2017) carried an article by William Galston. Mr. Galston is a contemporary liberal and a career Democrat among an otherwise classically liberal editorial staff that leans Republican. In this instance, Mr. Galston wrote an article titled "The Growing Threat of 'Illiberal Democracy'" [1]. In it he asks the question "What happens when rule by the people conflicts with individual rights?" It is an interesting article that champions the concept of 'rule of law' vs. such things as pure democracy. It is a very classic liberal position to take - and a defense of individual liberty. Here is one of Galston's comments:

  • "Many have come to see liberal institutions such as a free press, constitutional courts and individual rights not as protections against public power, but rather as obstacles to effective governance. To solve major problems, goes the argument, government must have the capacity to act effectively, which liberal restraints undermine."

CivicWiki agrees and agrees with most of the rest of the article. Further, we would expect those on the right (as well as the left) to at least agree with its overall message of individual liberty. Here are a few reader comments posted at the bottom of the article on WSJ's website (cut and pasted without modification). Note that they tend to recall grievances over issues not even mentioned in Galston's article.

  • Please go away and take your lying columns with you, Galston.... anyone with half a brain knows that "liberalism" is communism, leftism, socialism, etc. gussied up to sell to the next generation of suckers and takers...
  • In the U.S. Galston and his "liberal" friends have tried to subvert what he calls liberal democracy by packing the court system and liberalizing both legal and illegal immigration to the detriment of their fellow countrymen.
  • Mr. Galston seems to have missed or ignored the past eight years, or viewed them as a liberal nirvana, under Obama’s governance by executive order, regulation and prosecution of illiberal recalcitrants such as the Little Sisters of the Poor. (my comment: the article made no mention of Obama, etc.)

These commentors did not read and understand that what Mr. Galston wrote defended individual liberty and was not a partisan rant. They reacted to their preexisting impression of his tribal affiliation. If someone from their side were to make the same remarks, they would heartily agree. We must do better than that. In fact, Mr. Galston provides evidence that there are principles of universal validity around which we can agree and then discuss how they should apply to the issues, our problems and our governance.