The Faith of a Liberal: Selected Essays by Morris R. Cohen

By Morris R. Cohen | Go to book overview

51
THE FUTURE OF AMERICAN LIBERALISM

I

TO AFFIRM a faith in liberalism may seem quixotic at a time when the word "liberalism" is commonly associated either with an outmoded individualistic theory of economics or with a political trend that shuns clear thinking and seems to offer a special haven to those mushy-minded persons who, rather than make a definite choice between Heaven and Hell, cheerfully hope to combine the best features of each. But liberalism and liberal civilization may be conceived more generously. For my part I prefer to think of the liberal temper as, above all, a faith in enlightenment, a faith in a process rather than in a set of doctrines, a faith instilled with pride in the achievements of the human mind, and yet colored with a deep humility before the vision of a world so much larger than our human hopes and thoughts. If there are those who have no use for the word "faith" they may fairly define liberalism as a rationalism that is rational enough to envisage the limitations of mere reasoning.

Liberalism is too often misconceived as a new set of dogmas taught by a newer and better set of priests called "liberals." Liberalism is an attitude rather than a set of dogmas--an attitude that insists upon questioning all plausible and self-evident propositions, seeking not to reject them but to find out what evidence there is to support them rather than their possible alternatives. This open eye for possible alternatives which need to be scrutinized before we can determine which is the best

-437-

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