No man or woman is an island, and no one should aspire to be one, either. That, at the core, is the claim of illiberalism, post-liberalism, or any of the other names given to the movement that pushes back against individualism as an ideal. The liberalism of Locke, deeply woven into American culture and political philosophy, takes the individual as the basic unit of society, while an illiberal view looks to traditions, family, and other institutions whose demands define who we are.
It always confuses me that illiberalism is taken as a belligerent ideology – both by its detractors and some of its proponents – as though it were rooted in strength and prepared to wield that power against others. It is contemporary liberalism that begins from an anthropology of independence, and presumes a strength and self-ownership we do not in fact possess.
The best corrective the growing illiberal enthusiasm can offer is not a rival strength – no fist clenched around a flagpole of any standard. Instead it must offer a re-appreciation of weakness – the kind I see in the chubby, fumbling fingers of my daughter, reaching out to her parents.
The liberal theory of the independent individual as the basic unit of society is full of exceptions. When my own baby was awaiting birth, paddling away at my insides to strengthen her lungs and her bones, she was decidedly non-autonomous. She is swept out of moral consideration with the claim that she is not a person until she can survive without my involvement.