Category Archive 'Liberalism'
12 May 2009
Doctor Zero at Hot Air has a pretty good analysis of the differing viewpoints and methods of appeal of the two opposite American political poles.
Republican politicians often forget that conservatism is an argument, while liberalism is a promise. The conservative champions both the moral and practical superiority of liberty and individualism. The liberal promises tangible rewards in exchange for votes. The conservative argument will never be over, because any free-market system will always include a certain population who fare poorly. No matter how small that population is, or how much the overall wealth of society eases the burden of their poverty, they will always be extremely receptive to the seduction of collective politics: You’re not responsible for your lot in life. You were cheated. The wealth of others is unfair. Give us the “freedom” that wasn’t doing you any good anyway, and we will sharpen it into a weapon against those who took advantage of you. Give us your undying support, and you’ll never have to worry about feeling confused, guilty, or inadequate again. Voting for the Democrat ticket will fully discharge your moral and intellectual duty as a citizen – we’ll take it from there. In fact, we’ve got ACORN representatives standing by to fill that ballot out for you. You have a “right” to housing, a job, health care, a college education, easy credit, and a host of other benefits, and the liberal promises to provide all of these things, while making nameless rich people pick up the tab.
Liberal socialism is the ongoing critique of capitalism’s imperfections. To the casual center-left voter, the world seems overwhelming, confusing, and unfair. This was never more obvious than in the financial crisis that erupted last fall, when a large number of citizens became very angry and frightened about a crisis they couldn’t begin to understand. They just knew something terrible was happening, and they demanded action. The Democrats stepped in with a ready-made narrative, which the Republicans suicidally left unchallenged, and offered the exact same solutions they have offered to every problem since the days of FDR: massive government spending and control. Conservatives found this dismaying and horrifying – who in their right minds would solve the problem Barney Frank created by giving Barney Frank more money and power? But Democrat voters were willing to accept this diagnosis and solution, as they always seem ready to accept liberal solutions, despite a century-long track record of absolute failure… because they need to believe that someone out there knows what they’re doing, and has the answers to the overwhelming problems produced by a complex economy, and packaged by a sensationalist media in love with Big Solutions to Big Problems. ...
We might ask the rank-and-file liberal why he’s so willing to believe slippery, corrupt characters like politicians would be better suited to distribute the wealth of the nation, than the people who earned that wealth. The answer is the talismanic power of democratic elections. The American voter has been raised since childhood to believe voting is a sacred process that confers tremendous moral legitimacy on the winners of elections. Dollar bills are ugly instruments of crass materialism and greed in the hands of private citizens, but they acquire a luminous aura of virtue when handled by an elected official. The liberal voter believes his political leaders are entitled to control whatever portion of their constituents’ wealth they require, because the voters gave them this power, voluntarily. They see ballots as an unlimited power of attorney to act on their behalf. Conservatives view their votes as a way to restrain politicians, while liberals view them as decrees of informed consent.
The liberal is comfortable with members of his Party descending from the heavens in private jets, to lecture citizens on the need to drive tiny fuel-efficient cars, and is untroubled by the spectacle of politicians who amassed vast fortunes through political corruption attacking private citizens for their greed… because those politicians were sanctified through the ritual of the popular vote. You might get a friendly liberal to admit that most politicians are crooks… but he’ll hasten to add that businessmen are all crooks too, and at least the politicians gained their power and comforts through the informed consent of the voters, instead of stealing it from them with elaborate business schemes.
The gulf that divides liberal voters from conservative ideas is a crisis of faith. The liberal voter does not believe the system is fair, or that businessmen operating in a free market will provide the necessities of life that every American is entitled to. The upper class liberal doesn’t have faith in the ability of the poor and downtrodden to seize the opportunities provided by capitalism, and build a better life for themselves. The dependent voter relies upon the benevolence of Big Government because he doesn’t have faith in himself – he sees the competition of the free market as a rigged game he is destined to lose, rather than an exhilarating opportunity. The moralistic liberal has no faith in the judgment or compassion of ordinary people, who are products of a society forever mired in racism, sexism, phobias, and greed. The cynical young liberal thinks he knows what the ultimate goals of a wise and just society should be, and doubts that uneducated, Bible-thumping rednecks will ever arrive at those goals of their own free will. The working-class liberal is fearful that collapsing corporations will leave hordes of unemployed people who won’t be able to find another decent job. High schools and colleges are filled with kids who have been taught to have no faith in the ability of free people to take proper care of their environment.
Read the whole thing.
Hat tip to the News Junkie.
01 May 2009
Jonathan Haidt (Y ‘85) is a Social Psychologist at UVA who focusses on the moral foundations of politics. He has made, what the left perceives as a breakthrough discovery: liberals and conservatives place emphasis on different moral values.
More interestingly, Haidt’s research finds that conservatives understand liberals much better than vice versa.
Jonathan Haidt is hardly a road-rage kind of guy, but he does get irritated by self-righteous bumper stickers. The soft-spoken psychologist is acutely annoyed by certain smug slogans that adorn the cars of fellow liberals: “Support our troops: Bring them home” and “Dissent is the highest form of patriotism.”
“No conservative reads those bumper stickers and thinks, ‘Hmm—so liberals are patriotic!’” he says, in a sarcastic tone of voice that jarringly contrasts with his usual subdued sincerity. “We liberals are universalists and humanists; it’s not part of our morality to highly value nations. So to claim dissent is patriotic—or that we’re supporting the troops, when in fact we’re opposing the war—is disingenuous. ...
The University of Virginia scholar views such slogans as clumsy attempts to insist we all share the same values. In his view, these catch phrases are not only insincere—they’re also fundamentally wrong. Liberals and conservatives, he insists, inhabit different moral universes. There is some overlap in belief systems, but huge differences in emphasis.
In a creative attempt to move beyond red-state/blue-state clichés, Haidt has created a framework that codifies mankind’s multiplicity of moralities. His outline is simultaneously startling and reassuring—startling in its stark depiction of our differences, and reassuring in that it brings welcome clarity to an arena where murkiness of motivation often breeds contention.
He views the demonization that has marred American political debate in recent decades as a massive failure in moral imagination. We assume everyone’s ethical compass points in the same direction and label those whose views don’t align with our sense of right and wrong as either misguided or evil. In fact, he argues, there are multiple due norths.
“I think of liberals as colorblind,” he says in a hushed tone that conveys the quiet intensity of a low-key crusader. “We have finely tuned sensors for harm and injustice but are blind to other moral dimensions. ...
Haidt is best known as the author of The Happiness Hypothesis, a lively look at recent research into the sources of lasting contentment. But his central focus—and the subject of his next book, scheduled to be published in fall 2010—is the intersection of psychology and morality. His research examines the wellsprings of ethical beliefs and why they differ across classes and cultures.
Last September, in a widely circulated Internet essay titled Why People Vote Republican, Haidt chastised Democrats who believe blue-collar workers have been duped into voting against their economic interests. In fact, he asserted forcefully, traditionalists are driven to the GOP by moral impulses liberals don’t share (which is fine) or understand (which is not).
To some, this dynamic is deeply depressing. “The educated moral relativism worldview is fundamentally incompatible with the way 50 percent of America thinks, and stereotypes about out-of-touch elitist coastal Democrats are basically correct,” sighed the snarky Web site Gawker.com as it summarized his studies.
Hat tip to the News Junkie.
I think Haidt’s five foundational moral impulses are far from accurate.
Speaking as a conservative, I think liberal’s notions of fairness/reciprocity are both different from ours and are fundamentally inaccurate, constantly asserting exaggerated and unreciprocated claims to supposititious rights.
Example: liberals believe the US is obliged to award humane treatment in accordance with Geneva Convention standards to unlawful combatants who do not abide by that Convention.
Haidt overlooks the conservative “foundational moral impulses” pertaining to individual liberty, the right of the individual human being to think and act freely within his own private sphere, as well as those pertaining to the rights of society, the right of the people to preserve their own institutions and identity. Conservatives believe that change should be organic and voluntary. Liberals believe in the forcible imposition of their own superior moral insights.
15 Mar 2009
Over the last few decades, the powerful impact of Conservatism on jurisprudential reasoning, both in law school publications and in judicial opinions, has caused progressives reluctantly to deal with original intent in Constitutional Law.
Jess Bravin, in the Wall Street Journal, reports on a fascinating new development, in which some liberals are considering a positive embrace of Constitutional Originalism philosophically.
A progressive originalism would reject the ruling of the Slaughter-Houses Cases of 1873 which limited the impact of the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of the “privileges or immunities” of individual citizens against the states.
The libertarian potential of such a move could be tremendous, and the conflict within the legal community on the left between an inclination to suppress States’ Rights while enhancing individual rights claims on the basis of the post-Civil War Amendments versus their love of regulation and generally enthusiastic embrace of the cult of Statism will be absolutely fascinating to watch unfold.
A must read.
20 Feb 2009
William Veogeli, in the Wall Street Journal, contemplates liberalism as the politics of snobbery.
Our age has seen political disdain become seamlessly integrated into cultural disdain. The prominent novelist E.L. Doctorow showed the way in 1980 when he wrote that Ronald Reagan had grown up in “just the sorts of places [small towns in Illinois] responsible for one of the raging themes of American literature, the soul-murdering complacency of our provinces. . . . The best and brightest fled all our Galesburgs and Dixons, if they could, but the candidate was not among them.” Reagan did attend college, but not the kind that would have given him some exposure to the world outside the soul-murdering towns where he grew up, and to moral ideas calling into question his parents’ religion. Instead, wrote Mr. Doctorow, a “third-rate student at a fifth-rate college could learn from the stage, the debating platform, the gridiron and the fraternity party the styles of manliness and verbal sincerity that would stand him in good stead when the time came to make his mark in the world.” Achieving success in his first job out of college, as a radio announcer in Des Moines, Reagan made a number of local speaking engagements, “giving talks to fraternal lodges, boys’ clubs and the like, telling sports stories and deriving from them Y.M.C.A. sorts of morals.”
We see here all the basic elements, employed for the past 28 years, of liberal condescension. Every issue of The New Yorker, Vanity Fair or Rolling Stone makes clear that the policy positions of George W. Bush, Republicans and conservatives in general are wicked and stupid. The real problem, however, is that everything about these people—where they reside, what they believe, how they live, work, recreate, talk and think—is in irredeemably bad taste. To embark on a conversation with one of them, based on straight-faced openness to the possibility of learning something interesting or important, would be like choosing to vacation in Wichita instead of Tuscany.
Political parties have traditionally been coalitions held together by beliefs and interests. The modern Democratic Party may be the first in which the mortar is a shared sensibility. The cool kids disdain the dorks, and find it infuriating and baffling that they ever lose a class election to them.
14 Feb 2009
Roger Scruton argues for the superiority of Western Civilization on the basis of its possession of the faculties of irony and forgiveness, but warns that the arid landscape of multicultural liberalism can never fulfill the spirtual and emotional needs of humanity.
This culture of repudiation has transmitted itself, through the media and the schools, across the spiritual terrain of Western civilization, leaving behind it a sense of emptiness and defeat, a sense that nothing is left to believe in or endorse, save only the freedom to believe. And a belief in the freedom to believe is neither a belief nor a freedom. It encourages hesitation in the place of conviction and timidity in the place of choice. It is hardly surprising that so many Muslims in our cities today regard the civilization surrounding them as doomed, even if it is a civilization that has granted them something that they may be unable to find where their own religion triumphs, which is a free, tolerant, and secular rule of law. For they were brought up in a world of certainties; around them, they encounter only doubts.
If repudiation of its past and its identity is all that Western civilization can offer, it cannot survive.
Liberalism additionally fundamentally misunderstands our current Islamic adversaries, Scrutin argues, erroneously trying to fit their motivations into a simplistic Marxist schema of economic motivation and animosity.
The vague or utopian character of the cause is therefore an important part of terrorism’s appeal, for it means that the cause does not define or limit the action. It is waiting to be filled with meaning by the terrorist, who is searching to change not the world but himself. To kill someone who has neither offended you nor given just cause for punishment, you have to believe yourself wrapped in some kind of angelic cloak of justification. You then come to see the killing as showing that you are indeed an angel. Your existence receives its final ontological proof.
Terrorists pursue a moral exultation, a sense of being beyond the reach of ordinary human judgment, radiated by a self-assumed permission of the kind enjoyed by God. Terrorism of this kind, in other words, is a search for meaning—the very meaning that citizenship, conceived in abstract terms, cannot provide. Even in its most secularized form, terrorism involves a kind of religious hunger. ...
Islamist terrorists are animated, at some level, by the same troubled search for meaning and the same need to stand above their victims in a posture of transcendental exculpation. Ideas of liberty, equality, or historical right have no influence on their thinking, and they are not interested in possessing the powers and privileges that their targets enjoy. The things of this world have no real value for them, and if they sometimes seem to aim at power, it is only because power would enable them to establish the kingdom of God—an aim that they, like the rest of us, know to be impossible and therefore endlessly renewable in the wake of failure. Their carelessness about others’ lives is matched by their carelessness about their own. Life has no particular value for them; death beckons constantly from the near horizon of their vision. And in death, they perceive the only meaning that matters: the final transcendence of this world and of the accountability to others that this world demands of us.
Hat tip to Karen L. Myers.
14 Feb 2009
It’s a mess, but C. Edmund Wright offers the consolatory reflection that it’s only a matter of time before the consequences of left-liberal policies come home to roost.
There’s a law that liberals always shatter. (And no, I’m not talking about tax law.) It’s the law of unintended consequences. Actually it’s not so much liberals per se that break it so much as it seems liberal thinking by definition always runs afoul of this law. Leftist policy always hangs itself if given enough rope.
The liberals now have the entire stage with a very liberal President, extreme leftists in control of Congress, and the main stream media. Liberal failure has nowhere to hide and no one to hide behind. So as the Obama administration attempts to attack the country’s economic woes, they find themselves stepping in one pile of liberal policy do-do after another. You might say that the left hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing. The world will have to watch as liberal policy for problem A destroys Obama goals for problem B and so on.
Read the whole thing.
11 Feb 2009
Charles R. Kesler, in Christian Science Monitor, warns that Barack Obama intends to move America as far in a leftward direction as his predecessors Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Lyndon Johnson.
Modern liberalism came to America in three waves, and it’s useful to think of Obama in this light.
The progressives of the early 20th century were the original liberals, developing the essential tenets of liberalism as a political doctrine. Woodrow Wilson and others argued that the Constitution was an 18th-century document, based on 18th-century notions of rights. While suited to its day, they said, it was now painfully inadequate unless interpreted in a vital new spirit.
This spirit was Darwinian and evolutionary, turning Hamilton’s “limited Constitution” into a “living Constitution” that must be able to adapt its structure and function to meet the latest social and economic challenges. To guide this evolution, to organize society’s march into the future, presidents had to cease being merely constitutional officers and become dynamic leaders of popular opinion.
Obama accepts all the major elements of this evolutionary approach to the Constitution and American government. As he wrote in “The Audacity of Hope,” the Constitution “is not a static but rather a living document, and must be read in the context of an ever-changing world.”
Likewise, in his inaugural address he declared, “The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works….”
This emphasis on what “works” is his nod to pragmatism, which he implies is almost the opposite of ideological liberalism. In fact, however, such pragmatism is part of liberalism.
What “works,” after all, depends on what you think government’s purpose is supposed to be. Pragmatism tries to distract us from those ultimate questions, while assuming liberal answers to them. Thus Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal promised “bold, persistent experimentation.” Obama’s domestic agenda betrays the same eagerness.
Liberalism’s second stage was economic. In the New Deal, the Great Society, and its sequels, liberals turned to the wholesale minting of new kinds of rights. Citizens were thus entitled to socioeconomic benefits through programs such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Besides these entitlements, the federal government also extended its regulatory authority to areas previously private or under state and local jurisdiction.
But this wave crested unexpectedly, and for a while, contemporary liberals seemingly lost their enthusiasm for such top-down regulation and the work of transforming privileges into rights.
With the fall of the Soviet Union and the discrediting of socialist economies around the globe, liberals such as Bill Clinton took a second look at the free market. He populated his Treasury department with highfliers from Goldman Sachs and other Wall Street firms. In left-leaning think tanks and even in the academy, capitalism commanded strange new respect. This rehabilitation of the market, though never more than partial, was the greatest change in American liberalism in the past 40 years. Obama absorbed it, as did many members of his new administration.
But the financial crisis and market meltdown have changed things.
It looks like 1932 again, a time for reinvigorated government activism. ...
An enduring Democratic majority is not out of the question. The wild scramble to stop the economic and financial downturn may well leave America with a politically controlled economy that would corrupt the relationship between citizens and the federal government – sapping entrepreneurship and encouraging new forms of dependence on the state, as in much of Europe. That would be consistent with the more socialized democracy that liberalism has been striving for ever since the Progressive Era.
Obama likes to emphasize that America is more like the world than we realize, and must become still more like it if the US is to remain the world’s leader. Despite his summoning oratory, his sense of American exceptionalism thus is far less lofty, far more constrained, than Reagan’s or FDR’s. The greatest stumbling block to Obama’s ambition is likely to be the inability of this exceptional president to persuade Americans to follow him into so unexceptional a future.
01 Feb 2009
Just last week, many of those on the left, like Andrew Sullivan, were applauding Barack Obama’s conciliatory tone and acceptance of the viewpoint of the United States’ overseas Islamic adversaries.
But, as Peter Berkowitz recently noted, left liberalism has turned into a kind of secular religion that is in the domestic political context so sure of itself that it “transforms dissenters into apostates or heretics.”
Jonathan Chait, at New Republic, notes the peculiar foreign-vs.domestic discrepancy of the liberal approach to opposition.
It’s kind of funny how, when it comes to domestic politics, many liberals employ assumptions about human nature that are wildly at odds with the assumptions they use about human nature when it comes to foreign policy. When you read the liberal blogs on domestic politics, concessions to the enemy are always counterproductive, will must be met with will, etc. When you read them on foreign policy, all those assumptions are flipped on their head. I’m not saying that these two sets of assumptions are completely impossible to reconcile, but it is pretty odd how easily they sit together.
Personally, I think it has to do with self-hatred.
Liberals want to believe America’s foreign enemies are basically right, at least on the crucial issue of our being wrong.
There is no compromise with or forgiveness for domestic adversaries, because we are the expressive part of the American self that liberalism exists to turn against and destroy.
30 Dec 2008
Violence and social unrest have finally awoken the Dutch left from its Rousseau-ian dream. A new Labor Party policy paper calls for an end to the politics of victimhood and a quick dip in the melting pot for Holland’s Islamic new arrivals.
International Herald Tribune:
Since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States, the Netherlands had lived through something akin to a populist revolt against accommodating Islamic immigrants led by Pim Fortuyn, who was later murdered; the assassination of the filmmaker Theo Van Gogh, accused of blasphemy by a homegrown Muslim killer; and the bitter departure from the Netherlands of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali woman who became a member of Parliament before being marked for death for her criticism of radical Islam.
Now something fairly remarkable is happening again. ...
Two weeks ago, the country’s biggest left-wing political grouping, the Labor Party, which has responsibility for integration as a member of the coalition government led by the Christian Democrats, issued a position paper calling for the end of the failed model of Dutch “tolerance.” ...
The paper said: “The mistake we can never repeat is stifling criticism of cultures and religions for reasons of tolerance.”
Government and politicians had too long failed to acknowledge the feelings of “loss and estrangement” felt by Dutch society facing parallel communities that disregard its language, laws and customs.
Newcomers, according to Ploumen, must avoid “self-designated victimization.”
She asserted, “the grip of the homeland has to disappear” for these immigrants who, news reports indicate, also retain their original nationality at a rate of about 80 percent once becoming Dutch citizens.
Instead of reflexively offering tolerance with the expectation that things would work out in the long run, she said, the government strategy should be “bringing our values into confrontation with people who think otherwise.”
There was more: punishment for trouble-making young people has to become so effective such that when they emerge from jail they are not automatically big shots, Ploumen said.
For Ploumen, talking to the local media, “The street is mine, too. I don’t want to walk away if they’re standing in my path.
“Without a strategy to deal with these issues, all discussion about creating opportunities and acceptance of diversity will be blocked by suspicion and negative experience.” ...
For the Netherlands’ Arab and Turkish population (about 6 percent of a total of 16 million) it refers to jobs and educational opportunities as “machines of emancipation.” Yet it also suggests that employment and advancement will not come in full measure until there is a consciousness engagement in Dutch life by immigrants that goes far beyond the present level.
Indeed, Ploumen says, “Integration calls on the greatest effort from the new Dutch. Let go of where you come from; choose the Netherlands unconditionally.” Immigrants must “take responsibility for this country” and cherish and protect its Dutch essence.
Not clear enough? Ploumen insists, “The success of the integration process is hindered by the disproportionate number of non-natives involved in criminality and trouble-making, by men who refuse to shake hands with women, by burqas and separate courses for women on citizenship.
“We have to stop the existence of parallel societies within our society.”
30 Oct 2008
An excerpt from James Kalb’s The Tyranny of Liberalism: Understanding and Overcoming Administered Freedom, Inquisitorial Tolerance, and Equality by Command:
The incremental style of liberalism obscures the radicalism of what it eventually demands and enables it always to present itself as moderate. What is called progress—in effect, movement to the left—is thought normal in present-day society, so to stand in its way, let alone to try to reverse accepted changes, is thought radical and divisive. We have come to accept that what was inconceivable last week is mainstream today and altogether basic tomorrow. The result is that the past is increasingly discredited, deviancy is defined up or down, and it becomes incredible that, for instance, until 1969 high school gun-club members took their guns to school on New York City subways, and that in 1944 there were only forty-four homicides by gunshot in the entire city. ...
In spite of serious chronic problems that no one knows how to attack—extraordinarily low natality, rising costs of social-welfare programs, growing immigrant populations that do not assimilate—basic change seems unthinkable. No matter how pressing the problem, only analyses and solutions compatible with liberal positions are allowed in the public square. Almost all serious discussion is carried on through academic and other institutions that are fully integrated with the ruling order, and in any case antidiscrimination rules make wholehearted subscription to principles such as inclusiveness the only way to avoid legal and public relations problems that would make institutional life impossible. Genuine political discussion disappears. What pass as battles between liberals and conservatives are almost always disputes between different stages or tendencies within liberalism itself.
So dominant is liberalism that it becomes invisible. Judges feel free to read it into the law without historical or textual warrant because it seems so obviously right. To oppose it in any basic way is to act incomprehensibly, in a way explicable, it is thought, only by reference to irrationality, ignorance, or evil. The whole of the nonliberal past is comprehensively blackened. Traditional ways are presented as the simple negation of unquestionable goods liberalism favors. Obvious declines in civility, morality, and cultural achievement are ignored, denied, or redefined as advances. Violence is said to be the fault of the persistence of sex roles, war of religion, theft of social inequality, suicide of stereotyping. Destruction of sex and historical community as ordering principles—and thus of settled family arrangements and cultural forms—is presented as a supremely desirable goal. The clear connection among the decline of traditional habits, standards, and social ties; the disintegration of institutions like the family; and other forms of personal and social disorder is ignored or treated as beside the point.
Many people find something deeply oppressive about the resulting situation, but no one really knows what to say about it. Some complain about those general restrictions, like political correctness, which make honest and productive discussion of public affairs impossible. Others have more concrete and personal objections. Parents are alarmed by the indoctrination of their children. Many people complain about affirmative action, massive and uncontrolled immigration, and the abolition of the family as a distinct social institution publicly recognized as fundamental and prior to the state. Still others have the uneasy sense that the world to which they are attached and which defines who they are is being taken from them.
Nonetheless, these victims and their complaints get no respect and little media coverage. Their discontent remains inarticulate and obscure. People feel stifled, but cannot say just how. They make jokes or sarcastic comments, but when challenged have trouble explaining and defending themselves. The disappearance of common understandings that enable serious thought and action to be carried on by nonexperts and outside formal bureaucratic structures has made it hard even to think about the issues coherently. The result is a system of puzzled compliance. ...
Attempts to challenge the liberal hegemony occasionally emerge but always fail. No challenge seems possible when all social authorities that might compete with bureaucracy, money, and expertise have been discredited, co-opted, or radically weakened. When populist complaints make their half-articulate way into public life they are recognized as dangerous to the established order, debunked as ignorant and hateful, and quickly diverted or suppressed. Proponents of the standards now current always have the last word. Freedom, equality, and neutral expertise are the basis of those standards, and when discussion is put on that ground it is difficult to argue for anything contrary. Rejection of equal freedom and of expertise is oppressive and ignorant by definition, so how could it possibly be justified?
At bottom, the problem with the standards that now govern public life is that they deny natural human tendencies and so require constant nagging interference in all aspects of life. They lead to a denatured society that does not work and does not feel like home. A standard liberal response to such objections is that our reactions are wrong: we should accept what we are told by those who know better. Expertise must rule. Social attitudes, habits, and connections, it is said, are not natural but constructed. They are continually revised and reenacted, their function and significance change with circumstances, and their meaning is a matter of interpretation and choice. It follows that habits and attitudes that seem solidly established and even natural cannot claim respect apart from their conformity with justice—which, if prejudice and question-begging are to be avoided, can only be defined as equality. All habits and attitudes must be conformed to egalitarianism and expertise. To object would be bigoted or ignorant.
But why should we trust those said to know better in such matters? Visions of an emancipated future are not necessarily wiser than nostalgia for a virtuous past. If all past societies have been sinks of oppression, as we are now told, it is not clear why our rulers are likely to change the situation. They understand the basic problems of life no better than the Sumerians did. They are technically more advanced, but technology is simply the application of means to ends. Tyrants, who know exactly what they want, can make good use of technique, and if clever they will pass their actions off as liberation.
Advanced liberalism fosters an inert and incompetent populace, a pervasive state, and commercial institutions responsible mainly to themselves. Alas, the state generally botches large-scale undertakings, commerce is proverbially self-interested, and formal expertise is more successful with small issues that can be studied in detail than with the big issues that make life what it is. Experts can treat appendicitis, but they cannot give us a reason to live. They can provide the factual content of instruction, but they cannot tell us what things are worth knowing. Why, then, treat their authority as absolute?
We should not accept the official, and “expert,” debunking of ordinary ways of thought. While popular habits and attitudes can be presented as a compound of prejudice and self-interest, so can official and expert views. Both expertise and the state are immensely powerful social institutions. They have their own interests, and there is no reason to trust them any more than drug companies or defense contractors in matters that affect their own status and position. Expertise is only a refinement of common sense, upon which it continues to depend for its sanity and usefulness. Thought depends on habits, attitudes, and understandings that we mostly pick up from other people and that cannot be verified except in parts. It cannot be purified of habit and preconception and still touch our world. Ordinary good sense must remain the final standard of judgment. Good sense, however, is the business not of experts and officials but of the public at large.
In fact, advanced liberal society is reproducing the error of socialism—the attempt to administer and radically alter things that are too complex to be known, grasped, and controlled—but on a far grander scale. The socialists tried to simplify and rationalize economics, while today’s liberals are trying to do the same with human relations generally. The latter involve much more subtle, complicated, and fundamental aspects of human life. Why expect the results to be better?
Read the whole thing.
Hat tip to the Barrister.
16 Aug 2008
Bruce Walker, at American Thinker, argues that, just as it was no accident that Ronald Reagan armed with conviction and consciously asserting the ideals of Liberty the United States was founded upon was able to bring down Communism and win the Cold Water, it is also no accident that the post-Reagan return to political “realism” has enabled the enemies of Liberty worldwide to regroup.
After Reagan, the candle glowed brightly, then it flickered, then it died. Why? The Old World has always been torn between the remnants of its ancient empires and the bold promise of human liberty. Its elites, its sophisticates, its nationalists have always whispered that America and its promises are lies. German culture, Japanese uniqueness, Chinese civilization, Islamic greatness, French grandeur and Russian tsars of myriad denominations—these were truth, and liberty was a lie.
For a few brief years, the East no longer believed the tale of its political and ideological bosses. Hong Kong, not Beijing, was the future of China. Bricks of the Berlin Wall were solid souvenirs of Marx’s folly. Russians dreamed of a joyful future. Reagan had been Washington again, and when Madison and Jefferson did their work, the world would be well, so it seemed.
Then nothing happened. When Reagan left office, it was like when Lincoln was shot. The keen mind and the wondrous soul which endured everything to emancipate men was gone. Small minds and smaller hearts scurried in. George H. Bush, famously, sacked the men of Reagan and replaced them with more sensible functionaries. ...
Anyone could see that the pressure which worked on the Soviets would work on the Chinese Communists as well. Students in Beijing begged the world for freedom in 1989, something unprecedented under the Soviets. The theme of liberty should have permeated every transaction between America and China. Not just government, but business should have resonated with the importance of human rights over commercial profits. If Clinton believed that, he might have been able to rally the nation, but Clinton emphatically rejected the value of liberty over comfort.
The Presidency in eight short years went from being occupied by a moral colossus to a moral dwarf. Clinton sold national security secrets for something as banal as campaign contributions. Although Yeltsin was President of Russia during all of Clinton’s administration, our clever Clinton was unable to prevent on August 19, 1998 – one decade ago – the collapse of Russian financial markets and the destruction of the hope of a Russian middle class. This was the midpoint between the presidential campaign to elect the successor to Reagan and our grim world today—ten years ago.
What was Clinton doing ten years ago? He was on national television, the very same day that the Russian economy collapsed and the rise of Putin was assured, explaining that he had an “inappropriate relationship” with Monica Lewinsky and, by the way, he was ordering cruise missiles to hit aspirin factories in Sudan to combat a terrorist threat.
11 Aug 2008
A couple of YouTube 19 year old comedians satirize youth for Obama. They were sufficiently persuasive that some angry Hillaryites at Larry Johnson’s blog took this for a real endorsement.
27 Jul 2008
Friederich August Hayek
Jesse Larner, writing in Dissent, makes a valiant attempt to dismiss Hayek from a post-Soviet-collapse, “we’re only advocating voluntary collectivism,” progressive perspective. Hayek overlooked “spontaneous collectivism” you see.
Ilya Somin, at Volokh Conspiracy, offers an intelligent critique of Larner.
21 Jul 2008
The Washington Post tells us that liberals are suffering from SCOTUS envy.
It could be seen as the sincerest form of flattery: Ask some activists on the left the kind of Supreme Court justice they would like to see a President Obama appoint, and the name you hear most is the same justice they most often denounce.
They want their own Antonin Scalia. Or rather, an anti-Scalia, an individual who can easily articulate a liberal interpretation of the Constitution, offer a quick sound bite and be prepared to mix it up with conservative activists beyond the marble and red velvet of the Supreme Court. ...
as the Supreme Court takes its traditional spot in the background of the presidential campaign, there is a longing on the left for a justice who would energize not only the court’s liberal wing, but also the debate over interpreting the Constitution.
“Someone with vision,” said Doug Kendall, who recently helped found a new liberal think tank called the Constitutional Accountability Center. “Someone who looks hard at the text and history of the Constitution, as Justice Scalia does, and articulates a very clear idea of how that text points to liberal and progressive outcomes.”
“It is a court with no true liberal on it, the most conservative court in 75 years,” said Geoffrey Stone, a law professor at the University of Chicago, where Obama once taught constitutional law. “What we call liberals on this court are moderates, or moderate liberals, if you want to get refined about it.”
Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and David Souter aren’t liberals?
Heck, liberals don’t even need to win presidential elections to get liberal Supreme Court Justices appointed. Conservative Republican presidents will appoint some for them.
Speaking more seriously, though, I think our friends on the left are missing the point. They are on the defensive on the Court, not really because of a paucity of kindred spirits, but because they have, for decades, been losing the battle of ideas in jurisprudence and Constitutional Law at the law schools and in the law journals.
Face it, what liberals really want is a return to an uncritical era of legal intuitions, emanations, and emotional sloganeering. They want the William O. Douglas and Earl Warren kind of “no brainer” liberal court decisions which merely use a few orotund generalities to raise the consensus of the liberal elite to the status of law of the land.
18 Jul 2008
Conservatives, like Edmund Burke, have repeatedly warned that human reason employed by a contemporary intelligentsia class does not represent an authority wise or competent enough to overturn the wisdom of numberless generations and to remodel the immemorial institutions of mankind.
Reflections on the Revolution in France, 1790:
But now all is to be changed. All the pleasing illusions which made power gentle and obedience liberal, which harmonized the different shades of life, and which, by a bland assimilation, incorporated into politics the sentiments which beautify and soften private society, are to be dissolved by this new conquering empire of light and reason. All the decent drapery of life is to be rudely torn off. All the super-added ideas, furnished from the wardrobe of a moral imagination, which the heart owns and the understanding ratifies as necessary to cover the defects of our naked, shivering nature, and to raise it to dignity in our own estimation, are to be exploded as a ridiculous, absurd, and antiquated fashion.
On this scheme of things, a king is but a man, a queen is but a woman; a woman is but an animal, and an animal not of the highest order. All homage paid to the sex in general as such, and without distinct views, is to be regarded as romance and folly. Regicide, and parricide, and sacrilege are but fictions of superstition, corrupting jurisprudence by destroying its simplicity. The murder of a king, or a queen, or a bishop, or a father are only common homicide; and if the people are by any chance or in any way gainers by it, a sort of homicide much the most pardonable, and into which we ought not to make too severe a scrutiny.
On the scheme of this barbarous philosophy, which is the offspring of cold hearts and muddy understandings, and which is as void of solid wisdom as it is destitute of all taste and elegance, laws are to be supported only by their own terrors and by the concern which each individual may find in them from his own private speculations or can spare to them from his own private interests. In the groves of their academy, at the end of every vista, you see nothing but the gallows.
When the argument against Gay Marriage is made that no greater practical impediment to formalized polygamy or incest exists than to formalized sodomy, slippery slopes are pooh pooh’d by the party of alleged progress.
Well, here you are, progressives.
The Times of London publishes memories of an agreeable relationship with her brother by an articulate and clearly well-educated citizen of modernity, who describes herself in passing as an academic.
Their incestuous relationship isn’t something she and her sibling “can share easily.” But that isn’t because there was something wrong with it, you see. It’s simply the case that their relationship was unusual and other people wouldn’t understand.
The lady academic refuses “to be made to feel guilty about it.” Incest may be “traditionally seen as bad, but in some cultures that isn’t the case.”
What really matters is that she can identify no specific utilitarian loss, and she enjoyed it.
So here we are, living in a time in which members of the sophisticated, international haute bourgeoisie are not ashamed to admit to practices normally ascribed uncomplimentarily to rural primitives.
But, we know there are no slippery slopes, and one couldn’t possibly suppose that parent-child incest could ever be described affirmatively or even ambiguously, could one?
Hat tip to MeaninglessHotAir.
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