Liberalism as Infrastructure

Bridges are crumbling, water is poisoned, schools don’t have books. So-called partisanship is high and rising. Yet neither party can do anything of significance to fix anything. Physical infrastructure is crumbling yet the edifice of neoliberal political permanence seems impenetrable. The distinction between what is left and what is liberal as well as what role the left should play in maintaining or opposing liberalism is a complex and difficult distinction that is at least as old as “the left.” One way of thinking that might provide some clarity and a framework for addressing these dynamics is to conceptualize liberalism as a form of infrastructure—i.e. something that may be necessary, useful, and good, but is, even in ideal conditions, only a floor upon which society is built. This interpretation of liberalism has many political implications. For example, we may need clean water, animal control, and courts, but, with this view, we come to understand that pipe fitters, dog catchers, and lawyers should not embody our political horizon.