Monday, December 29, 2014

What took Robert Tracinski so long?

You know things are getting pretty bad when a libertarian atheist devoté of Ayn Rand links arms (albeit grudgingly) with conservative religious types. That’s just what Robert Tracinski does in his Federalist post, “Confessions of a Reluctant Culture Warrior”.

Why would it be such as surprise? Because libertarians tend to be liberal where a Christian who takes traditional Christian morality seriously ought to be conservative, and vice versa. Because many atheists, like Tracinski himself, object to select parts of traditional Christian morality, and clamor that adopting anything they don’t like into law is tantamount to enacting a “Judeo-Christian Sharia” or a “theocracy”. Because Ayn Rand’s objectivism is, as Marina Galperina so charmingly put it, “the philosophical system for people who pleasure themselves over thoughts of laissez-faire capitalism and believe that self-interest is the highest moral purpose and that’s that, the objective truth, f**k you;” Tracinski proposes it as a “third way” precisely because it isn’t and can’t be considered a religion-based ethos.

Whatever else you can say about self-interest, though, it can occasionally prompt you to recognize that precedents established to destroy your cultural nemeses can — and often will — be turned against you and your allies sooner or later. And in the struggles over the last year, from the Hobby Lobby decision to gendered toys, Tracinski, whose normal position on cultural issues was “Could we talk about something else, please?”, heard Martin Niemöller begin his famous poem with a new line: “First they came for the Christians ….”

Tracinski the libertarian objectivist atheist has finally seen the Progressivist Thought Police on the march.

The Progressivist Thought Police

As an imperfect-but-trying-to-be-observant Catholic, I ought to be charitable and welcome Tracinski to our side of the barricades. Right now, though, I’m trying to squelch a bitterness that wants to demand of him, “What the hell took you so long?” It’s not as though the progressivist thought police have been working in the shadows, or have just popped up out of nowhere in the last year.

Granted, for a long time they dominated only colleges and universities, where the term “political correctness” was originally coined as a liberal criticism of its partisans’ own tendencies back in the late 1970s. And that was over ten years before I went to college, over ten years before the publication of Illiberal Education: The Politics of Race and Sex on Campus (New York: Vintage Books [Random House], 1992), in which Dinesh D’Souza chronicled then-recent instances of academic freedom being repressed in the name of social goals.

So the thought police have run riot over academia for lo these thirty-five years and more. More to the point, in those thirty-five years, thirty-five classes of college-trained intellectual bullies have been graduated: some to go on to legal careers, and even seats on our judicial benches; some to infest public education; some to rise through the corporate ranks, and (like George Soros) become wealthy backers of leftist causes; and some to infiltrate the mainstream media and entertainment (like there’s a difference anymore), to become journalists and purveyors of progressive agitprop.

Along the way, to counter Christian resistance, they’ve adopted a two-prong strategy that would have made Feliks Dzerzhinsky smile. While one prong attacks from the anti-Christian side, demonizing Christians as xenophobic, intolerant “haters” and fighting against the “imposition of religion/morality”, the other side burrows from within, creating a “moralistic therapeutic deism” that rejects “churchianity”, turns dogma into a dirty word, and exploits the “silence” of the Gospels to make Jesus a sock puppet for the latest leftist cause … that is, when they don’t engage in out-and-out lying about what Jesus and the early Church did. Through emotional coercion from without and theological subversion from within, they’ve reduced the capacity of many Christian communions to fight back, and caused some to abjectly surrender.

“The Ability to Live Life in a Bearable Way”

Back in April, Mollie Hemingway wrote “The Rise of the Same-Sex Marriage Dissidents”, with this reflection back on Vaclav Havel’s 1978 essay “The Power of the Powerless”:

To explain how dissent works, Havel introduced the manager of a hypothetical fruit-and-vegetable shop who places in his window, among the onions and carrots, the slogan: “Workers of the world, unite!” He’s not actually enthusiastic about the sign’s message. It’s just one of the things that people in a post-totalitarian system do even if they “never think about” what it means. He does it because everyone does it. It’s what you do to get along in life and live “in harmony with society.” (For our purposes, you can imagine that slogan is a red equal sign that you put up on your Facebook page.) …

Havel says that party politics and the law are the weakest grounds on which to fight against group think. Instead, he says that the real place for dissidents to fight for freedom is in the space where the complex demands of the system affect the ability to live life in a bearable way — to not be fired for one’s views, for instance. “People who live in the post-totalitarian system know only too well that the question of whether one or several political parties are in power, and how these parties define and label themselves, is of far less importance than the question of whether or not it is possible to live like a human being,” Havel said.

To Hemingway, the rise and fall of Brendan Eich at Mozilla was a “powerful story of a dissident — one that forces those of us who are still capable of it to pause and think deeply on changing marriage laws and a free society.” Even long-time defenders of same-sex marriage, such as Andrew Sullivan, William Saletan, and Conor Friedersdorf, had to wonder if the “equality movement” had become a totalitarian monster, Hemingway noted; Spiked, of all media outlets, described it as “‘a case study in conformism’ that should terrify ‘anyone who values diversity of thought and tolerance of dissent.’”

“We Can’t Sit Out the ‘Culture War’”

“So [2014] was the year when we learned that we can’t sit out the ‘culture war,’” Tracinski writes, “because [the left is] bringing it to us, and every niggling little aspect of our lives will now be redesigned to make us more tractable.” It’s not just same-sex marriage; rather, it’s a whole host of issues, from the “gender gap” to gender identity to “slut-shaming” and everything in between, with “race cards” added as an extra-special bonus. “The basic problem with the left’s conception of freedom is that it doesn’t really have one.”

The left’s operational concept of freedom is that you are allowed to do and say what you like — so long as you stay within a certain proscribed [sic] window of socially acceptable deviation. … Those people [who don’t] are declared outside the protection of the law and in fact will have the full weight of the law bear down upon them until they recant their socially unacceptable views.

I don’t agree with a lot of what Tracinski believes; in fact, I believe the Randian Paradise his “third way” would produce would be as ugly and inhuman in its own fashion as the moral-relativist, gendersilly Utopia towards which the left is working. But, in true American fashion, I’ll defend his right to argue his case without fear of social or legal reprisal.

For one thing we apparently agree on: A working representative democracy needs robust, broadly-defined freedoms of speech and religion. And those freedoms are definitely under attack in the name of “progress”. Dissidents of the U.S.A., unite!