The Left and the Right both square off with liberals–often for deeply divided reasons–for two major reasons: 1) this epoch is largely a liberal epoch shifting ever more towards the “right” side of liberalism, and 2) Liberalism is the current traditionalism of both the US and the EU, it has been the current traditionalism of the US for longer as both Republicans and Democrats in power until the middle 1970s functioned with liberal values. Indeed, classical liberal values spawn both the American Left and Right, and while Keynesianism, anarchism, Marxism has added to the thick veins of the American left-liberal tradition making it resemble its Marxist-Saint Simonian-LaSallean-Left Keynesian cousin, Social Democracy, and libertarianism has increasingly became close to reactionary elements in the “conservative” tradition obscuring the character of what is going on, both are heirs to a liberal tradition.
Furthermore, all the reactions against the Enlightenment are largely rooted in it: counter-enlightenment thinkers such as De Maistre or Herder or the fundamentalists or the Romantics are still locked in categories set by the Enlightenment. Also, “Left” critiques of the Enlightenment that material in origin are developments out of contradictions within liberal modernity itself–one can see this as analytic developments, or dialectical developments, and it would still stand. So in that sense, the background to the hostility non-liberals feel towards liberalism is partly cultural (Haidt’s research can be useful here) and partly pathological–we all see parts of our tradition reflected in what is currently deemed “liberal.”
In fact, I don’t think the failures of the Left are liberal failures, and leftists would do well to quit blaming our failures on outside parties or on competing but related traditions. No, but the failures of liberalism now is encapsulated by two things: a willingness to engage in almost tribal support for leaders whose compromises even disappoint liberals themselves, and often a failure to even conceive of the reactionary position liberalism has put itself in as a “current traditionalism.” In other words, the dominant thought form will be by-and-large concerned with maintaining its past gains, and given the inability of liberalism to deliver on Enlightenment promises, this will only get worse as the economic situation makes the contradictions obvious.
Look at Dan Carlin: Carlin is an independent, but crucially he is a liberal in the old sense of the term. Yet he sees the fundamental incoherence that both sides of a partisan debate have to can be illustrated in both healthcare and war policy. Carlin, being an honest man, no longer sees an answer, but his question as to the problem is corruption. His paradox is that his self-effacing honesty still has one hampering: he can not easily admit that the past he so valorizing contained all the contradictions of the current, and yet he does almost admit when he openly calls most of American self-conceptions “myths.”
The paradox of the liberal is that contradictions of the declining effacement are so great that they are left like the Soviets in the late 1980s, doing too little far too late, and letting resentment build so that the other side wins. Carlin sees the ad hoc nature of what the constitutional regime and the piecemeal developments of the 20th century have left so many elements of daily life, and he is furious at the disconnect with the leadership. Yet he can not square the circle either, and how can one expect it him to? He is in a defensive position. The questions for left-liberals and the paradox of the liberalism is thus though: if Carlin does square the circle, will what he produces look liberal anymore? Will it avoid the bloodshed? Further imperialism? Resource depletion? Or would maintaining the liberty he wants to maintain cost much in blood and treasure? Would he accept that cognitive dissonance? Or will he act like some Trotskyist or Maoist sectarians stubbornly refusal to acknowledge the contradictions of their own history and trying to pretend that so much of the past didn’t happen? Will anything that resolves these splintering and contradictions even be liberal anymore? I don’t know.
I doubt it. In the meantime, the Left has one major responsibility: to hold itself to account for its failures and to offer an alternative to the current–either through liberalism or against it. At the current, it does neither element of that responsibility well, and thus also cannot be said to have answers to the questions at hand.