Wednesday, February 13, 2013

what people are made of

Look. It's not about who voted for who after complaining about who. It's not about chopping up the left into a thousand little slices, like you're writing an Audubon guide. And it's certainly not about the learned helplessness that compels people to declare the impotence of the party which holds the presidency and the Senate and that inexorable weight of demographics I keep reading about.

This is what it's about. Liberalism's most sacred belief-- the conviction that underpins it all-- is the belief in the equal value of all human life. It is the commitment to the notion that all human life is equally worthy of protection, that the interdiction against taking that life is equivalent between and among all people. That is not a radical idea or a socialist idea or a Marxist idea or a pacifist idea. It is the fundamental, elementary commitment of liberalism. People who call themselves liberals or progressives who defend drone strikes, and the broader campaign of aggression without due process against the law, are hypocrites because they profess a belief while violating its central tenet. That many conservatives see the brown peoples of the earth as sweaty wogs, eligible for murder without right or review, I take as a matter of course. That some of those who profess liberalism feel the same, I take as something even uglier.

Make no mistake: when you justify the killing of Muslims because of their aesthetic similarities to terrorists, you are asserting that they are less than human. You deny them and only them basic human rights not by denying that those rights are rights but by denying that Muslims are human and are thus ineligible. There is no other logic. You might refer to that as hypocrisy, or as total moral failure. Myself, I don't really care what you call it.


Ethan Gach said...

I suspect that when push comes to shove, most liberals would still fall back on, at some point, the idea that American interests trump those of some other country or people.

At which point there are really few left who aren't hypocritical.

The gap between speech and action, principle and policy, with liberals has always seemed, to me, a much larger expanse then with conservatives.

paul said...

Not to get too Macintyre-ish on you, but I always wondered how earnest liberals like yourself actually rationally account for the equality of all human beings without a substantive Christian metaphysics (which is where the idea originated, at least for the West). It seems to be more of a vague moral intuition that you just assume to be true. Anyway, I'm sure you're aware of what Habermas and other people have said about this; I'm just sincerely curious how you account for it.

circadianwolf said...

"Liberalism's most sacred belief-- the conviction that underpins it all-- is the belief in the equal value of all human life. It is the commitment to the notion that all human life is equally worthy of protection, that the interdiction against taking that life is equivalent between and among all people. That is not a radical idea or a socialist idea or a Marxist idea or a pacifist idea. It is the fundamental, elementary commitment of liberalism."

According to whom?

Freddie said...

Me, of course.

lupus said...

@freddy: Precisely. Being a liberal means being concerned about human rights, full stop. Doesn't matter if the human in question lives outside our borders, or has differently-colored skin, or espouses views which I abhor, for that matter. Rights is rights.

@ethan: Push only truly comes to shove is when it's a zero-sum game, which happens frequently in thought experiments, not so much in real life. Would I shoot someone holding a knife to my daughter? Probably. Does that mean I'm a hypocrite to oppose droning children in Pakistan? Let us not be absurd.

@paul: I for one don't need a religious manual to work out that treating, say, Nigerians as somehow less human than Americans will lead to bad consequences. Christian thinkers have certainly contributed to Western thought. But I don't need to adopt their metaphysics lock, stock, and barrel to recognize that Dr. King had some good ideas. Oh, wait, he got a lot of those from a Hindu who explicitly rejected sectarian ethics. :-)

@circadianwolf: Me, for one. I'm not interested in seeking authority for, or debating the definition of, liberalism. I call myself a liberal largely because I accept that sacred belief. And I think freddy can make a defensible case that to the extent that there is such a thing as liberalism, that ideal drives it -- that human life has meaning, that something better than a brutal Hobbesian free-for-all can be built. It is a rebuttal to the Social Darwinist idea that it always eventually comes down to somebody's boot on somebody else's face, so why not just start there and save everybody the trouble? (cf. Rush Limbaugh, et al.)

Ethan Gach said...

@Lupus, push comes to shove every time we talk about immigration, trade, war, taxes, etc.

Liberal American politics are still based on nationalism of some kind.

Cameron said...

One thing to be careful about with charges of hypocrisy: for many people, "hypocrisy" does not indicate moral failure at all, but rather reveals that some alleged ideal (in this case, rule of law and respect for life) was pernicious bullshit from the start. So "these liberals are such hypocrites" reads not as " wish we had some real stand-up liberals" but as "see-- liberalism is an empty illusion."

Matthew Schrepfer said...

I'm with you here, but I think there's two different hypocrisies going on here which should be separated:
1. The hypocrisy of people critical of national security policies under Bush who now support the same or equivalent policies under Obama.

2. The hypocrisy inherent in liberals supporting drone strikes under any circumstances, since this contradicts the basic tenets of liberalism.

The first one is pretty obviously odious, though I agree with Hayes that more opposition from the left wouldn't have changed anything probably.
The second is more complicated. I could see two ways that a liberal could argue that it's not hypocritical:
A. The support is practical and qualified, not based on principle. Joe Biden's idea during the debate over the Afghan surge of ending the occupation and fighting primarily with drone strikes would fall into this category. Just leaving those poor people alone would be ideal, but under constrained circumstances drones are obviously better than occupation. This of course does not apply now, as we have a worst-of-both-worlds drone and occupation combo.

B. It isn't hypocrisy, as you're mistaken about the central conviction of liberalism. To define liberalism as you do is to exclude from it--or label as hypocrites--a quite sizable portion, if not a majority, of people who, historically, considered themselves liberals. In other words, approaching the tenets of liberalism descriptively rather than prescriptively, it's hard to see how liberalism could entail the principled opposition to drones that you claim it should. I mean, if FDR, Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, and their associated thinkers and politicians aren't liberals, then who is? You can say that liberals are wrong to support drones, basically, but you can't say they're hypocrites.

If you couldn't tell, I basically believe B. The categories we structure political life around are concerned with domestic policy--economic/social/cultural issues at home--and so what we call liberalism and conservatism have no particular foreign policy valence, and each are compatible with any number of foreign policy orientations. It is possible for quite conservative people to hold foreign policy views you might find amenable, Freddie, as Ron Paul does now (to an extent); this was quite common between the World Wars. It is also entirely possible for liberals to militant imperialists or even mass murderers and still be quite sincerely and even extremely liberal in all other accounts--arguably the two most liberal presidents since WWII also gave us the atomic bombs and Vietnam, a definition of "liberal" that excludes Truman and Johnson just isn't coherent, in my opinion.
So in a way, I guess I think you're giving liberalism too much credit; it is entirely possible to believe in a robust domestic liberalism while also supporting militaristic imperialism.

circadianwolf said...

@Freddie: Fair enough. It just seems to me that that isn't true for a majority of people who call themselves liberals and that many policies recognized as liberal act against that, which makes me question the utility of such a definition. (But then, I don't find much truck with vague political labels in general, so I guess I'm not the audience for such a discussion.)

C.K. Dexter Haven said...

The debate between reform and fundamental change is over. Liberalism is finished, a failed project.

C.K. Dexter Haven said...

I have yet to see a discussion of Obama's expansion of drone warfare and presidential kill lists alongside his administration's glorious "Asian pivot."

Soo, the liberal position is global drone warfare AND Cold War part II.