I never called myself a liberal. For a long time, however, I considered liberalism a sound theory that, whatever its weaknesses, was committed to freedom of discussion, pluralism, and a general attitude of respect for the beliefs of one’s fellow citizens, even when they are wrongheaded. But I don’t call liberalism a sound theory anymore. Nor do I think it stands for freedom and pluralism.
Liberalism has come to have two faces. The first face is a specific political and philosophical doctrine. You can read John Locke, for example, or Benjamin Constant, or John Stuart Mill. Their visions of man in society entail a variety of presuppositions, and like any other theoretical conception, they may become objects of criticism.
The second face is that of a super-theory, a comprehensive and obligatory way of thinking that is enforced in modern society as the best regulator of human diversity and the only sure guarantee of freedom. We, and only we, can and should take over—the liberals say—because we will establish the best rules of cooperation and the most efficient system for the distribution of freedom. Anyone who says otherwise is a fascist or potential fascist. Karl Popper set up this all-or-nothing choice in The Open Society and Its Enemies. Isaiah Berlin implies the same in his widely read essay, “Two Concepts of Liberty.”