The story of liberalism, as liberals tell it, is rather like the legend of St. George and the dragon. After many centuries of hopelessness and superstition, St. George, in the guise of Rationality, appeared in the world somewhere about the sixteenth century. The first dragons upon whom he turned his lance were those of despotic kingship and religious intolerance. These battles won, he rested a time, until such questions as slavery, or prison conditions, or the state of the poor, began to command his attention. During the nineteenth century, his lance was never still, prodding this way and that against the inert scaliness of privilege, vested interest, or patrician insolence. But, unlike St. George, he did not know when to retire. The more he succeeded, the more he became bewitched with the thought of a world free of dragons, and the less capable he became of ever returning to private life. He needed his dragons. He could only live by fighting for causes— the people, the poor, the exploited, the colonially oppressed, the underprivileged and the underdeveloped. As an ageing warrior, he grew breathless in his pursuit of smaller and smaller dragons—for the big dragons were now harder to come by.
He doesn’t make the final literary link, but I couldn’t help but think that this is a description of Don Quixote - the “knight” tilting windmills because he can’t find giants. Anyway, anyone who can use dragons as an illustration of political philosophy ought to be congratulated, whatever his conclusion.
But is he correct? Has liberalism, the fight on behalf of the poor and defenseless, achieved such victory that dragons are harder to come by? Or, is he saying that liberalism is now more focused on the fight than on those it is fighting to protect?