“Progressive” Righteous Zealotry Bodes Ill for Individual Life and Liberty

The brazenness with which mainstream “Progressives” (or “Modernists”) are now declaring not only their abandonment but outright hostility to the concept of rights is extremely troubling. I infer it signals their belief that they now have complete control of the public square and every thinking person now “knows” that such ideas are outdated and ridiculous.

Two recent columns capture the brave new world to be built on identity politics, moral relativism, and utilitarianism: Stanley Fish, writing in the New York Times, and John Cassidy in The New Yorker.

To get the full flavor, you must read in its entirety Stanley Fish’s “Two Cheers for Double Standards.”

Fish therein sets up the Law of Reciprocity—”the Golden Rule: do unto others what you would have them do unto you”—as emanating from “enlightenment liberalism,” and thus, apparently, as easily discarded as that outdated past deserves. On the contrary, however, and as C.S. Lewis delineates in The Abolition of Man, the concept is not a mere construct of Western Civilization, it is found in every civilization and culture across geography and history.

Having thus dismissed 10,000 years of foundational Natural Law, Fish urges the reader to:

step outside of the liberal calculus in which all persons, no matter what their moral status as you see it, are weighed in an equal balance. … treat people you see as morally different differently. … If you do that you will not be displaying a double standard; you will be affirming a single standard, and moreover it will be a moral one because you will be going with what you think is good rather than what you think is fair.

In a phrase, adopt completely moral relativism, in which all that matters is what you think. And this will work out fine, so long as you are one of the Progressives’ own, one of—in Fish’s term—the “good guys” (as defined by Fish). You might not come out so well if you fall, in his view, as one of the “bad guys.” For Fish’s Brave New World,

substitutes for the rule “don’t do it to them if you don’t want it done to you” the rule “be sure to do it to them first and more effectively.” It implies finally that might makes right. I can live with that.

The immediate public policy implications of this modernist view were found this week in John Cassidy’s “Obamacare Supreme Court Case is a Bad Joke.” To Mr. Cassidy, the Justice’s audacity in questioning the government’s case presented last week was

yet another example of how America’s antiquated system of government, and its determined refusal to accept the economic realities of the modern world, is undermining its future.

In Mr. Cassidy’s view, therefore, the archaic concepts of equal protection of rights and a strict delineation and restriction of powers are to be tossed aside in order to achieve the utilitarian ends he has determined are “good.”

Thus, the new world order is before us, and the time is well nigh: we can either make a stand for Natural Law, defend consistently and absolutely the supremacy and universality of civil, economic, and individual rights, or we can concede our future to a world in which might makes right.

While entirely overused, analogy to the Third Reich is our most recent study of where such concepts lead a society:
First they came for the drug users, and I did not speak up because I did not like drugs
Then they came for the terrorists, and I did not speak up because I was not a terrorist
Then they came for the property owners, and I did speak up because my property was safe
Then they came for the conservatives, and I did not speak up because I was not a conservative …

Thus, a word of warning to Progressives: be darn sure you have an iron grip on that might, or the next they take may be you.

Image credit: trekandshoot / Shutterstock.com

Mary L. G. Theroux is Senior Vice President of the Independent Institute. Having received her A.B. in economics from Stanford University, she is Managing Director of Lightning Ventures, L.P., a San Francisco Bay Area investment firm, former Chairman of the Board of Advisors for the Salvation Army of both San Francisco and Alameda County, and Vice President of the C.S. Lewis Society of California.
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