Liberal societies have always depended on an illiberal or pre-liberal substructure to answer the varied human needs — meaning, belonging, a vertical dimension to human life, a hope against mortality — that neither John Stuart Mill nor Karl Marx adequately addressed.
These included family, religious communities, and a common American culture and patriotism. He continues:
Each of these foundations often manifested illiberalism’s evils: religious intolerance, racism and chauvinism, the oppressions of private and domestic power. But they also provided the moral, cultural and metaphysical common ground that political reformers — abolitionists, Social Gospellers, New Dealers, civil rights marchers — relied upon to expand liberalism’s promise.
Much of post-1960s liberal politics, by contrast, has been an experiment in cutting Western societies loose from those foundations, set to the tune of John Lennon’s “Imagine.” No heaven or religion, no countries or borders or parochial loyalties of any kind — these are often the values of the center-left and the far left alike, of neoliberals hoping to manage global capitalism and neo-Marxists hoping to transcend it.
Unfortunately the values of “Imagine” are simply not sufficient to the needs of human life. People have a desire for solidarity that cosmopolitanism does not satisfy, immaterial interests that redistribution cannot meet, a yearning for the sacred that secularism cannot answer.
Like Robert Nisbet in The Quest for Community, Douthat ties the weakening of traditional notions of community with the rise of larger-scale, less personal communities.
It’s interesting that Nisbet, writing in the 1950s, was mostly concerned with the decline of smaller-scale, traditional communities in favor of membership in the abstract national communities of modern states, most obviously in the totalitarian dictatorships of the 20th century. If Douthat is right, then cosmopolitanism on the left is having the effect of eroding nationalism, the previous beneficiary of the erosion of smaller-scale communities.