(No, this is not yet another post confirming what you already know and feel about climate change. If that is what you are here for, I look forward to disappointing and perhaps even insulting you.)
If you are honest with yourself — and there are very good reasons not to be — you will discover that the universal rules of human conduct that you feel obligated to uphold — that all decent people uphold — are not only your own self-serving prejudices, they are only your momentary prejudices. With a change in power distribution, your universal rules of human conduct will change — or rather, you will come to see your earlier mistake and correct it. Because you have so much integrity, see.
(Do not even present me with the criteria that led you to adopt those rules. Those are part of your self-serving universality. Today you wave around history as if it bindingly objective. Tomorrow you will reject history as hopelessly subjective and perspectival. Today you throw statistics in peoples’ faces, or studies, and follow the science. Tomorrow, when the studies undermine your ideals, you will return to your previous skeptical constructivism. You selectively deploy credulousness and suspicion to make facts speak for themselves in your favor. And you really believe that the ventriloquist dummy sitting on your lap is an oracle. And you really do believe what you believe. You aren’t one of those cynical “bad actors”. No, you are such a good actor your believe your own act.)
When we are in power, we get very relaxed about the fact that some are always more powerful than others, and when fortune happens to favor us, this is our moment to reshape the world and make it better according to our definition of “better”. We might even begin to feel entitled to reshape other people’s characters or their children’s characters, in order to improve them according to our own ideals.
But if power shifts away from us and we find ourselves subject to an ideal that is abhorrent to us, reshaping of the world and reshaping of young minds seems like manipulation, deformation, artificiality, tyranny — and ought never to happen, regardless of who is in power. There should be toleration, inviolable rights, privacy, and all that other liberal stuff people out of power always demand.
Show me someone who has seen past the horizons of liberalism, I’ll show you someone who thinks he has a shot at cultural dominance. Progressivism only threw off its liberal sheep’s clothing when the professional class achieved class hegemony, no longer felt it needed to negotiate with other classes, and, like all hegemons, discovered that it was mighty enough to act on its conscience and do what is right. Progressivism stopped being postmodern and went grotesquely positivist and naive realist at the precise point that it gained the upper hand, or at least believed itself to have done so.
There are solidly good reasons to prefer liberalism even when one has sufficient power to be illiberal, but this requires philosophical depth few bother developing, so most folks spend their lives in hypocritical oscillation.
It is not about adhering to rules you set for yourself and never reflecting on them again. It is about being sharply honest enough with yourself that you penetrate beneath your momentary opinions to an understanding that holds steady across the changing weather of your life.