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It is time to draw what conclusions we can from this brief survey of the recent history of a very old problem — one that began when Paradise was lost. Evil is eternal, but evildoers can be punished. The hard problem is dealing with those who act in the name of righteousness but whose actions have malign consequences. The liberal conscience is perpetually tender: it hasn’t the stomach to rein in self-righteous wrongdoers. It is the role of the conservative conscience to do the demolition work disdained by liberals. Denounce the UN as a nest of hypocrites and scoundrels? Dissect the European Union’s invertebrate institutions? Expose the anti-American, anti-Semitic and anti-Western agendas of much-fêted universities, think tanks and NGOs? It is always left to the Right to hold the self-righteous to account. Only when liberals are shamed do they place limitations on themselves. It required the election of a Donald Trump to force liberals to acknowledge the grievances of their fellow Americans and to shoulder the responsibilities of global leadership. It required Brexit to force liberals to pay attention to the grievances of their fellow Britons and the European Union’s lack of accountability. Theresa May and her fellow Conservatives have not yet forced Jeremy Corbyn to resign as leader of the Labour Party (and hence Prime Minister-in-waiting), despite his anti-Semitism and his blind eye to Putin’s crimes. But they won’t give up until he does. Trump and his fellow conservatives have not yet made America great again, but they won’t give up, no matter how much they are demonised. Conservatives won’t give up warning that our enemies are fighting a war against the West until liberals cease to ignore the manifold threats to our way of life. Only when liberals renounce relativism, disown the divisive politics of identity, and rejoin the battle for the survival of Western civilisation will they persuade voters that they are equal to the task of defeating its enemies. As a liberal mugged by the reality of Trump, Mark Lilla has written a devastating critique of the American Left’s obsession with identity politics, which has left economics and patriotism to the Right. As Lilla told David Remnick, “I’m tired of losing.”

The righteous need the Right to hold their idealism in check, just as conservatives need liberals to restrain their realism. “The problem of politics is not the control of wickedness, but the limitation of righteousness.” Dr Kissinger was right, but Goethe got there first, in his sonnet “Nature and Art”: “Wer Grosses will, muss sich zusammenraffen;/In der Beschränkung zeigt sich erst der Meister,/Und der Gesetz nur kann uns Freiheit geben.” “He who aspires to greatness must overcome himself;/Only in self-limitation does the master show himself,/And only the law can give us freedom.”
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