“A perennial misapprehension distorts virtually all discussions about the competing merits of socialism and [classical] liberalism: Socialists like to imagine that liberalism is an ideology. Reared on ideology themselves, they cannot imagine that any other form of intellectual activity exists, so they constantly detect in others the same propensity toward abstract and moralistic systematizing by which they themselves are possessed. Socialists are convinced that opposing doctrines are an inverted imitation of their own, and these opposing doctrines must likewise be promising absolute perfection, albeit by a different route. And liberals, reflexively compliant as always, have too frequently accepted this grossly mistaken view of their own position.
If a liberal asserts, “In practice, the market seems to be a less inefficient means of allocating resources than top-down, planned distribution,” a socialist will immediately shoot back, “The market is not a solution to every problem.” Of course not. Who has ever maintained such an absurdity? But since socialism was conceived in the delusion of being able to resolve every problem, its partisans project the same ambition onto their opponents. Fortunately, not everyone shares their megalomania. Liberals have never aimed to build a perfect society. They are content to compare the various types of society that exist or have existed, and to draw appropriate conclusions from studying those that have functioned the least badly. But many liberals, hypnotized by the socialists’ moral imperialism, fall into the trap of debating on the socialists’ terms.
Liberalism has never been an ideology, by which I mean a theory based on a priori concepts; nor is it an unchanging dogma divorced from the course of events and outcomes. It is merely a set of observations on facts.
Contemporary socialists—“light” totalitarians in mindset and vocabulary—go wrong when they imagine that liberals are busily planning the perfect society, the best that is possible in the world, but of opposite sign to their own. Therein lies the essential futility of post-Communist debate.”
Jean-Francois Revel, Last Exit To Utopia