"Watership Down" and the crisis of liberalism

Somewhere near the root of those discontents is a fear that the kind of balanced and virtuous society — simultaneously mystical and practical, orderly and free — that the rabbits build in “Watership Down” has slipped somehow from our grasp, or else was always just a myth. In which case we are left to choose between its darker rivals, between a comfortable decadence in which virtue erodes and the reaper beckons, or else some variant on Efrafa’s totalitarian alternative.

Which option you choose depends on which destination you fear most. One anxiety in the Western world right now, palpable on both the right and the left, is that the plush, end-of-rabbit-history warren is liberalism’s dystopian destination: a sleek and fattened inhumanity, a terrible mix of comfort and cruelty, a loss of basic human goods under the pressure of capitalism or secularism or both.

The other anxiety, dominant in the embattled liberal center, is that the people who want more than what modernity is currently delivering — whether they’re socialists or populists or integralists or something else entirely — are in various ways really just interested in building up Efrafa: either a literal police state with strongmen and zealously guarded borders and tight control of reproduction, a Gilead or Fortress Europe, or else a police state of the imagination, with ideological commissars ever on patrol.