Monday, October 27, 2008

The Tyrannical Logic of Liberalism

Jim Kalb below assumes more benign intentions among Leftists ("liberals") than I would but his point that their simple-minded rules ignore important factors and thus lead to adverse consequences is central

"The tyranny of liberalism" seems a paradox. Liberals say that they favor freedom, reason, and the well-being of ordinary people. Many people consider them high-minded and fair to a fault, "too broadminded to take their own side in a quarrel," too soft to govern effectively. Even the word "liberal" suggests "liberty." How can such an outlook and the social order it promotes be tyrannical?

The answer is that wanting freedom is not the same as having it. Political single-mindedness leads to oppression, and a tyranny of freedom and equality is no less possible than one of virtue or religion. We cannot be forced to be free or made equal by command, but since the French Revolution the attempt has become all too common and the results have often been tyrannical.

Tyranny is not, of course, what liberals have intended. They want government to be based on equal freedom, which they see as the only possible goal of a just and rational public order. But the functioning of any form of political society is determined more by the logic of its principles than the intentions of its supporters. Liberals view themselves as idealistic and progressive, but such a self-image conceals dangers even if it is not wholly illusory. It leads liberals to ignore considerations, like human nature and fundamental social and religious traditions, that have normally been treated as limits on reform. Freedom and equality are abstract, open-ended, and ever-ramifying goals that can be taken to extremes. Liberals tend to view these goals as a simple matter of justice and rationality that prudential considerations may sometimes delay but no principle can legitimately override. In the absence of definite limiting principles, liberal demands become more and more far-reaching and the means used to advance them ever more comprehensive, detailed, and intrusive.

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.

Human life is harder to change than are proclaimed social standards. It is easier to denounce gender stereotypes than to make little boys and little girls the same. The triumph of liberalism in public discussion and the consequent disappearance of openly avowed nonliberal principles has led the outlook officially established to embody liberal views ever more completely and at the same time to diverge more and more from the permanent conditions of human life. The result has been a growing conflict between public standards and the normal human understandings that make commonsense judgments and good human relations possible.

The conflict between public standards and normal understandings has transformed and disordered such basic aspects of social life as politics, which depends on free and rational discussion; the family, which counts on a degree of harmony between public understandings and natural human tendencies; and scholarship, which relies on complex formal rules while attempting to explain reality. As a consequence, family life is chaotic and ill-tempered; young people are badly instructed and badly raised; politics are irrational, trivial, and mindlessly partisan; and scholarship is shoddy and disconnected from normal experience. Terms such as "zero tolerance" and "political correctness" reveal how an official outlook deeply at odds with normal ways of thinking has become oppressive while claiming to have reached an unprecedented level of fairness and rationality.

In a society that claims to be based on free speech and reason, intelligent discussion of many aspects of life has become all but impossible. Such a state of affairs is no passing fluke but a serious matter resulting from basic principles. It is the outcome of rationalizing and egalitarian trends that over time have become ever more self-conscious and all-embracing until they now make normal informal distinctions-for example, those between the sexes-seem intolerably arbitrary and unfair. Those trends have led to the politically correct managerial liberal regime that now dominates Western public life and makes demands that more and more people find unreasonable and even incomprehensible.

What defines that regime is the effort to manage and rationalize social life in order to bring it in line with comprehensive standards aimed at implementing equal freedom. The result is a pattern of governance intended to promote equality and individual gratification and marked by entitlement programs, sexual and expressive freedoms, blurred distinctions between the public and the private, and the disappearance of self-government. To implement such a program of social transformation an extensive system of controls over social life has grown up, sometimes public and sometimes formally private, that appeals for its justification to expertise, equity, safety, security, and the need to modify social attitudes and relationships in order to eliminate discrimination and intolerance.

The last are never clearly defined, but in practice they turn out to include all attitudes and distinctions that affect the order of social life but cannot be brought fully in line with market or bureaucratic principles, and so from the standpoint of those principles are simply irrational. "Discrimination and intolerance" are thus held to include those attitudes, habits, and ties-sex roles, historical loyalties, authoritative cultural understandings, religious commitments and teachings-on which independent, informal, traditional, and nonmarket institutions and arrangements normally rely in order to function and endure.....

Advanced liberalism has become an immensely powerful social reality. Liberal standards for human rights and government procedures are widely viewed as universally obligatory, at least in principle, and no competitor has comparable general appeal as a way of organizing social life. The technically rational organization of the world to give each of us as much as possible of what he wants is quite generally accepted as the correct guiding ideal for politics and social morality. Pluralism, the fight against discrimination, and an ethic of "caring" are accepted as political, social, and moral imperatives. And administrative and therapeutic intervention in all aspects of social life is considered the self-evident means of vindicating them. Such views are especially strong in the societies that have been enduringly successful in modern times, and among the intelligent, well-educated, and well-placed, most of whom believe them a matter of simple justice and rationality and can conceive of no other legitimate outlook. Concerns about self-government, moral traditions, and inherited loyalties do not carry anything close to the same weight. To make a serious issue of such concerns is regarded as a sign of ignorance or psychological or moral defect.

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. However ineffective the schools become, educators feel compelled to inculcate multicultural platitudes rather than to promote substantive learning. No matter how silly people find celebrations of "diversity," they become ever more frequent and surround themselves ever more insistently with happy talk....

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? A look at what is on television or a conversation with an older schoolteacher is likely to suggest that the attempt to reconstruct life on abstract content-free principles has actually made life worse. The test must be experience. If the people in charge of affairs are so competent and intelligent, why the increasing cynicism about politics? Why the decline in so many aspects of social and cultural life?

We need not accept, as inevitable social change, what the state and its experts decide for us. When major institutions persistently act in ineffective or destructive ways while praising themselves for unprecedented justice and rationality, there is evidently something wrong with the outlook guiding them. For a better way of life to become possible we need to free ourselves from the views that are now conventional and find a different perspective. The problems of public life today go too deep for technical fixes. A fundamental critique of the principles accepted as authoritative is necessary so that our life together can fall more in line with what people find natural, comprehensible, and satisfying. The intention of this book is to promote such a critique and to explore alternatives.


Man sacked from British counselling service because he is a Christian who refused to give sex advice to homosexuals

A relationship counsellor claims he was sacked because he admitted that his Christian beliefs could prevent him giving sex therapy to gay couples. Gary McFarlane, a father of two who has worked for the national counselling service Relate since 2003, says that it failed to accommodate his faith or allow him to try to overcome his reservations. Now Mr McFarlane, 47, is taking his case to an employment tribunal, alleging unfair dismissal on the grounds of religious discrimination.

The controversy follows the case in July of Lillian Ladele, the Christian registrar who successfully challenged Islington Council over her refusal to conduct civil partnership ceremonies for gay couples.

Mr McFarlane, a solicitor, said he was 'sad and disappointed' with the 'bigotry' he had experienced at the Bristol branch of Relate from 'a group of people with their own agenda'. 'If I was a Muslim this would not happen,' he said. 'They would find a way to make the system work. But Christians seem to have fewer and fewer rights. Relate needs to be forced to work through stuff like this.'

Mr McFarlane, who regularly attends both Church of England and Pentecostal services in Bristol, joined Relate Avon five years ago. As a solicitor, he has specialised in resolving legal disputes through mediation, and even sits on a committee advising the Law Society. He is also a part-time tutor on relationships at Trinity Theological College in Bristol, whose Church of England principal, Canon George Kovoor, is a Chaplain to the Queen.

While training as a counsellor he had qualms about dealing with gay couples but overcame them during discussions with his supervisor. He has since helped a lesbian partnership. But his real problems arose last year after he started to train as a psychosexual therapist, treating people's intimate sexual problems. He said: 'In counselling, you are drawing the couple out, going on a journey with them, enabling them to think in more than black and white. You are not telling anyone what to do or endorsing what they do. 'But in sex therapy you are diagnosing their problems and setting them a treatment plan, not unlike a doctor.'

He said that while he believed in 'each to their own', he felt uncomfortable doing anything that would directly encourage gay sex. He had not expected to confront these issues until facing the prospect of providing therapy for a gay couple, when he planned to discuss them in confidence with his supervisor. He assumed that Relate Avon would take him off the case. He said that many counsellors had difficulties that had to be worked around. Some had been abused as children and found they could not conduct sessions with abusers, and Relate Avon would accommodate them.

But fellow counsellors complained about Mr McFarlane's views, alleging he was homophobic, and he was suspended last December by his manager. After three weeks, he was reinstated and had to promise to abide by Relate's equal opportunities policy, with the proviso, he claims, that he could raise issues in the future.

Following further complaints, however, he was told that he would face a disciplinary hearing because managers at Relate Avon no longer believed he intended to uphold the policy. He was dismissed and his appeal was rejected.

'There was a group who didn't want me there and they got their teeth in,' he said. 'I was prepared to explore my reservations but they wanted unconditional assurances that they would never become an issue for me. 'Why did they have to slam the door like that? This could force other Christians out of counselling. Some have already reacted with consternation, saying if it could happen to someone of my experience and skills, it could happen to them.'

A spokeswoman for Relate said: 'Relate cannot comment until the employment tribunal has taken place.' The organisation, originally called the National Marriage Guidance Council, was founded in 1938. By 1998 it was counselling couples in a much wider range of relationships and changed its name to Relate. It now operates from nearly 600 locations nationwide.


Liberty vs liberty

British campaign group Liberty seems more interested in proposing an alternative authoritarianism than defending freedom

This week, the UK government decided to shelve its plans to increase the period that terror suspects can be held without charge from 28 days to 42 days, after its proposal was voted down in the House of Lords. Britain's leading civil liberties group, Liberty, immediately declared the decision a `victory' for its campaign to prevent the increase. Yet the law that Liberty should really be worried about is not the Counter-Terrorism Bill but the Trades Descriptions Act - because Liberty, along with many others, doesn't seem very interested in defending liberty at all.

The government's decision to shelve the extension was simply a pragmatic one. Its Bill calling for an extension to 42 days' detention without charge only scraped through the House of Commons in June this year thanks to the support of nine Democratic Unionist MPs: bigots from Northern Ireland that no self-respecting government should cuddle up to. New Labour's whips in the House of Commons believed that if the measure went to a vote in the House again, it could well be defeated. Furthermore, even if the Bill did get through the Commons, the unelected House of Lords could continue to block it for up to a year before the Parliament Act could be used to force the law through; this would have delayed all the other measures in the Bill. The government scrapped the 42-days proposal in order to avoid embarrassment in the Commons and a potential delay by the Lords.

However, parliamentary calculation was not the only reason for a change of mind. There was also opposition to aspects of the Bill from those who should have been its keenest supporters: the police. In an article in The Times (London) a week before the Lords' vote, Andy Hayman - until recently Britain's most senior anti-terrorism officer - declared his support for the principle of 42 days' detention while denouncing the proposed mechanism by which it would be put into effect: `[T]he government's current proposals are not fit for purpose: they are bureaucratic, convoluted and unworkable. The draftsman's pen has introduced so many hoops to be jumped through that a police case for detaining a terror suspect will become part of the political game.'

Others argue that the government erased 42 days from its Bill for strictly party political reasons. In June, with Prime Minister Gordon Brown flailing about in a sea of unpopularity and desperate to appear like he had some purpose, he was keen to push through a measure that looked tough on terrorism. But the current economic crisis has given him a new lease of life. Now he is praised in the press not only for saving the British banking system (allegedly) but for providing a framework through which the US authorities and European governments might intervene in the financial arena, too. The 42-day proposal, which must once have seemed like a potential vote-winner, is now a messy and divisive idea at a time when Brown is milking the financial crisis. With all eyes focused on the economy, it was the perfect moment to drop the 42-days idea.

Liberty believes the decision to drop the proposal was a stunning vindication of its campaigning. Never mind that everyone from senior police officers to the prime minister himself was getting cold feet about the whole thing. After the Lords vote, the Liberty website declared: `Last night saw a resounding victory for Liberty's long running "Charge or Release" campaign. Common sense and common decency prevailed as the government dropped plans to detain terror suspects for 42 days without charge, following an overwhelming defeat in the House of Lords. We have consistently urged the government to drop these damaging proposals and have condemned the measures as wrong in principle, unnecessary and counter-productive.'

This is a strange kind of `victory', rather like a football manager declaring that being beaten four-nil was cause for celebration because at least it wasn't six-nil. Both are crushing defeats. The same applies to the current rules on terrorism offences. The power to lock someone up and question him repeatedly without charge for a disturbing 28 days - the victorious settlement in this civil liberty war - has no equivalent in any other democracy, as Liberty itself has pointed out frequently. Indeed, terrorism offences aside, the legal maximum for detention without charge in England is 96 hours - even in murder cases.

Worse, Liberty has argued that 28 days should be maintained and that other important principles of legal protection for suspects should be thrown out in lieu of introducing the 42-day extension. Liberty argues that the government should `remove the bar on intercept (phone tap) evidence in criminal trials', `review the way in which people that have already been charged can be re-interviewed and recharged as further evidence is uncovered' (opening up the possibility of oppressive post-charge questioning), and `bring in existing powers under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) which enable a civil court to require an individual to hand over an encryption key (which unlocks data on seized computers)'.

These legal rules that Liberty wishes to water down or override provide protection for individuals when the overwhelming power of the state is brought to bear upon them. Yet Liberty seems willing to trade them in for the administrative convenience of the police when investigating terrorist offences. As the Labour peer Martin O'Neill pointed out in the New Statesman earlier this year, in relation to the 42-day proposal, `certain liberties - like the freedom from detention without charge - are simply too fundamental to be traded-off against gains in our personal security. This is because personal security may itself only be truly worthwhile as long as these liberties are protected. It may do us no good to be kept safe from harm if it is at the cost of living in a country that is no longer a civilised liberal democracy.' The same applies to these other pillars of civil liberty, too.

Furthermore, Liberty has remained silent - at best - on a range of recent restrictions on our freedom, from the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act, which requires the state vetting of 11million people who work with children and old people, through to the bans on smoking and drinking in public. Shami Chakrabarti, the head of Liberty, has even threatened to use the libel laws - England's famously anti-free speech rules - to stop malicious statements being made about her. That's hardly the instinct of someone truly interested in freedom.

Instead of declaring victory in cases where draconian government powers are reinforced, what is needed is a more fundamental defence of individual liberty in Britain, something that spiked has put forward in our `Slash 42 days to 24 hours' campaign (see The fight for individual liberty starts here, by Brendan O'Neill). We need to defend existing protections and reinstate important principles like the right to silence - but we also need to go beyond the law to re-establish the idea of the active political citizen in contemporary society. Until the authorities feel the breath of active opposition on the backs of their necks, we will be stuck with the alternative authoritarianism of legalistic wonks like Liberty.


ACLU Favors Criminals (As Always)

The usual deliberately simple-minded assertion that the proportions of everything should be the same for blacks and whites and Hispanics

A study commissioned by the ACLU of 810,000 traffic stops by Los Angeles police has found that such arrests were racially motivated. Original studies of the data showed no such results. But a Yale professor "re-examined" the data, to conclude that "driving while black" and "driving while Hispanic" were current "crimes" in L.A. The facts for this article, but not the legal conclusions, come from an article in on 21 October, 2008. This writer has never heard of eFluxMedia, but based on the total lack of critical review, it is in the tank for the ACLU.

The article is on a study of racial aspects of arrests and frisks by the Los Angeles Police Department. The study was done by Professor Ian Ayres of Yale Law School as commissioned by the ACLU of Southern California. The conclusion of the article appears in its title, "LAPD Officers Driven By Racial Differences When Performing Arrests." According to the article, "Los Angeles police officers "see the world in black and white" because "African Americans and Hispanics were twice as likely to be ordered out of their vehicles than whites."

This may be true, but by itself proves nothing. Anyone familiar with police procedures knows that an investigating officer orders people out of their cars only when he is about to make an arrest, or he has reason to believe that the driver or someone else in the car may represent a threat to his safety, or may be seeking to hide contraband. The first step of every officer in every traffic stop is to run the license plate against the data base to see if it is reported stolen, and to run the drivers license against the data base to see if it is valid or has any warrants outstanding. Either of these may result in the conclusion that one of these risk factors is present.

Unless this study adjusted for this variable risk and likelihood of arrest for African Americans and Hispanics, the beginning statistic is useless. For instance, a high proportion of Hispanics in Los Angeles are illegals who do not (so far) have California drivers licenses. This fact by itself is a significant crime, and may result in the officer ordering the occupants out of the vehicle.

The study also found that "although African Americans and Hispanics were more likely to be frisked, officers were also less likely to find evidence during the searches." Everyone who is about to be arrested is frisked. The purpose is to find and remove such items as weapons and hypodermic needles. Even casual watchers of TV know this; it does not take a Yale Law professor to know this fact. Therefore, if people of color are arrested more commonly than people of no color (to coin a phrase), they will also be frisked more commonly, regardless of what may be found in the course of that frisk.

No hard numbers appeared in this article, but it said that the "racial disparities seemed smaller when they involved African American officers." Possibly this could be due to the fact that white officers are more likely to be shot and killed in L.A. traffic stops. than black officers, and therefore white officers have a higher justified caution in making a traffic stop.

The study was based on an examination of 810,000 traffic stops by LAPD officers from July, 2003, to June, 2004. The article states that, "At the time, there didn't seem to be any racial disparities in LAPD officers' behavior, however, while closely re-examining the data, Ayres found that in fact, these disparities existed."

Ignore relevant variables, carefully define your categories, and the desired results can be teased out of any input statistics. Mark Twain put this in plain English when he wrote, "There are lies, damned lies, and statistics." Twain illustrated that conclusion by pointing out that the number of murderers and Methodists in the Nebraska territory were rising at the same rate. That indicated that Methodists were most likely murderers.



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, OBAMA WATCH (2), EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.


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