Friday, March 27, 2009

An "Honest" Liberal

Occasionally I find a liberal who is "honest" about his ideas. (I put honest in quotes because those ideas are an evasion of reality, which is never honest.) One such liberal is Steve Kangas, who offers a substantial FAQ page on his web site.

Liberals believe that group survival is more efficient than individual survival. That is why true hermits are so extremely rare. But any group effort requires group agreement, cooperation and coordination. This in turn necessitates a social contract defining each member's rights and responsibilities. In the U.S., voters have created their social contract in the form of their constitution and laws. Breaking the law constitutes breach of contract, and legitimizes the appropriate law enforcement measures.

Kangas ignores the fact that individuals living today had little or no input into most of the laws that exist. As a matter of justice, an individual cannot be held accountable to a contract he had no part of drafting and did not voluntarily accept. He regards rights as a social convention, subject to the whims of society. If society decides that blacks, or Jews, or gays, or any individual is somehow a threat group survival, society can legitimately violate the rights of such individuals. He confirms his completely subjective view of rights:

What forms the basis of rights and property found in the social contract?

Whatever the voters agree to -- which means they can be anything, as indeed history has shown.
This is a complete renunciation of rights. According to this view, you possess rights so long as voters allow you to do so. But a "right" that can be revoked at will is not a right. In truth, a right is a sanction to act without interference from others. Rights are derived from man's nature, and the fact that he must act to sustain and enjoy his life. To subject his "rights" to the whim of society is to declare that his life belongs to society.
Many conservatives consider rights to be natural, inalienable, God-given and self-evident. But rights cannot be natural, like the laws of nature, because they can be broken. They cannot be inalienable, because history is filled with examples of people who never had rights in the first place, or had them taken away. They cannot be God-given, because the world's religions widely disagree on what rights are; even Judeo-Christianity allowed slavery for thousands of years, whereas today it doesn't. Rights cannot be self-evident, because slavery was viewed as natural by Aristotle and defended by the Church as such until the 19th century. The fact that rights have changed so much throughout history demonstrates that they are social constructs. Liberals believe that advances in moral philosophy and science are responsible for our improving concept of rights.

I won't attempt to address every error contained in this passage. But several are worthy of note. First is his equivocation on the word "natural". In the context of rights, "natural" means "according to the nature of man". Man can act differently from his nature because he possesses free will--he can choose to unfocus his mind and embrace falsehoods. He can choose to ignore and violate the rights of others. But this does not change the fact that man has a particular nature, and that life requires that he act accordingly.

Second, Kangas ignores the context in which the Founders proclaimed rights to be self-evident. In their culture, individual rights were widely understood and embraced (with some notable contradictions) by the citizenry. There was no serious disagreement on the issue in the American colonies, and within that context they regarded rights as self-evident. However, rights are not self-evident--validated by direct observation--for they require a complex intellectual chain of thought.

Third, the assertion that rights are social constructs is pure Kantianism. According to Kant, reality--and therefore rights--are the result of the "collective will".

What do liberals believe about equality vs. merit?

Liberals believe that a completely unrestricted meritocracy is like a knife fight -- the absence of rules allows the strong to eliminate or subjugate the weak...

Liberals therefore advocate a moderated meritocracy: those with the most merit continue to earn the most money or power, but a percentage of it is redistributed back to the middle and lower classes. This is accomplished by progressive taxes, anti-poverty spending, and other forms of regulation. Liberals do not see this as a "giveaway" to the poor -- on the contrary, they view the runaway profits of the rich (especially in the later stages of wealth accumulation) as undeserved, so redistributing them back to the workers who produced them is necessary to prevent exploitation. A moderated meritocracy retains the best of both worlds: incentive to achieve, and a healthy talent pool from which merit is drawn...

Still, liberals do not advocate going too far in the other direction, towards strict egalitarianism, after the problems experienced with it by the Soviet Union.
In other words, liberals want to have the productive and eat them too. But they don't want to be so principled as to consistently apply their ideas--that would lead to dictatorship. They would much rather give the productive enough carrots to keep working and carry everyone else on their backs. But their pragmatic rejection of principles prevents them from seeing that "strict egalitarianism"--the Soviet Union and its gulags--is the logical result of their ideas.

No comments: