Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Liberal neutrality update

Liberalism, we are told, is neutral between the diverse moral, religious, and philosophical points of view competing within a pluralistic society.  Or at least, it is neutral between the “reasonable” ones.  And which views are the “reasonable” ones?  Why, the ones willing to conform themselves to liberalism, of course!  As I’ve argued in several places, such “neutrality” is completely phony, though you don’t really need much in the way of argument to see that – it is blindingly obvious to everyone except liberals themselves.  (You can find my fullest statement on this issue here.  The immediate target of the paper linked to is one particular version of liberalism – libertarianism – but as its discussion of Rawls makes evident, the points it makes apply to liberalism generally.  See also, from National Review, my reviews of Amy Gutmann’s Identity in Democracy and of David Lewis Schaefer’s Illiberal Justice: John Rawls vs. the American Political Tradition.)

The BBC brings news of the latest illustration of the fraudulence of liberal “neutrality,” as a Christian couple is denied the right to become foster parents because of their disapproval of homosexual behavior – all in the name of “non-discrimination,” naturally.  As BBC News religious affairs correspondent Robert Pigott sums up the court’s decision, “the court discriminated between kinds of Christianity, saying that Christians in general might well make good foster parents, while people with traditionalist Christian views like Mr and Mrs Johns might well not” (emphasis mine).  And there you have it.  Liberals never try to impose their views on you – as long as you agree to be a liberal too.  All views are equal, but some are more equal than others.  Four legs good, two legs better. 

Nor is there any reason why interference with the way biological parents raise their children might not be justified on “liberal” grounds, if such parents are insufficiently “progressive” in their attitudes.  There are three kinds of liberals: Those who admit this; those who don’t admit it because they haven’t thought through the implications of their principles; and those who don’t admit it because they don’t think it (yet) politically prudent to admit it.  Not that there’s much point in denying it – it’s happening already.  There is, in principle anyway, no limit to the restrictions on freedom of thought and action that might be justified in the name of “liberal neutrality,” though it usually takes several steps to get there – five of them to be precise


  1. I despair for my nation sometimes. Then I remember not to believe the propaganda that says that the unceasing advance of liberalism is inevitable - it's today's culture.

  2. The propaganda cuts both ways. The BBC, along with other, less careful, protagonists on both sides have got the reporting of this wrong. The court did NOT determine that people of traditional Christian viewpoints are unable to become foster parents. What the judges said, in relation to a submission from the Christian Legal Centre was:

    "It is hard to know where to start with this travesty of the reality. All we can do is to state, with all the power at our command, that the views that Mr Diamond seeks to impute to others have no part in the thinking of either the defendant or the court. We are simply not here concerned with the grant or denial of State 'benefits' to the claimants. No one is asserting that Christians (or, for that matter, Jews or Muslims) are not 'fit and proper' persons to foster or adopt. No one is contending for a blanket ban. No one is seeking to de-legitimise Christianity or any other faith or belief. No one is seeking to force Christians or adherents of other faiths into the closet. No one is asserting that the claimants are bigots. No one is seeking to give Christians, Jews or Muslims or, indeed, peoples of any faith, a second class status. On the contrary, it is fundamental to our law, to our polity and to our way of life, that everyone is equal: equal before the law and equal as a human being endowed with reason and entitled to dignity and respect." (Para 34. The full judgement is here)

    Shame for the cultured despisers of Christianity, and shame for the foolish claimers of persecution.

    Otherwise, your dissection of the "neutrality of liberalism" is spot on the money (no irony intended!)

  3. Justin, I fail to see how that quotation mitigates any of this appalling mess. The couple was denied foster care of a child because of their disapproval of homosexual actions, right? They were discriminated against unjustly.

  4. Speaking of liberal tolerance, did you all see this story about the phony tolerance being practiced at the "venerable New York institution" Pratt Institute?

    It's worth a quick read:


  5. I don't think liberals are blind to their double-standard. I think they just don't care. They're the exception.

  6. Thanks for the link to the artist. I'd really like to see more of his work, particularly that box blown up. I'm fascinated, really.

  7. As Islam rises to demographic prominence it will be amusing to see the powers that be throw their screws into full reverse on homosexuality as they court a new most-favored fellow malcontent.

    Leviathan is almost as fickle a lover as that strumpet, Fortune.

  8. Greg, you're right, but it will take having an incredibly strong sense of humor to continue laughing at Muslims and liberals duke it out on this, after having first chewed us into bits and plowed us into the ground. We ain't dead yet. But Obama's ploy not to allow the justice dept. to spend any effort to uphold DOMA is an incredibly effective trick for a mid-term, ground-losing president.

  9. Liberals despise the sort of fundamentalist Islam that disparages gays just as much as they despise the conservative Christianity that would see gays climb so far back into the closte that they would be wrapped in plastic and marked "winter clothes." I deplore the decision in England very much, and I would hope that it wouldn't be repeated here in America. However, when I look at the invasive power of the state in England, it is far from the sort of liberal ideal I hold close to my heart. Personally, I feel more and more sorry for ALL the English that they have lost so much due to fear.

  10. I suspect that if a gay couple were to tell the agency that they believed that the Christian view of our sexual powers is mistaken they would not be denied an adopted children.

    To employ the inane reasoning of the UK court, this child could grow up to become a serious Catholic or Protestant and come to the conclusion that his "parents" engage in immoral acts. He would then become estranged from them. Thus, gays who hold negative views about Christian moral theology should not be allowed to adopt children since it is possible that these children will grow up to become Christians.

    Thus, the UK court was not neutral at all. It was sectarian and blind to its sectarianism.

    The culture war has made otherwise intelligent people very stupid.

  11. This country is now one of the most secular in the world. I think parts of the 'south' i.e. London is among the most agnostic and all the London dependent cities. Religious literacy is an abomination in this country, particularly among the 'native' population.

    What makes this more alarming is that it is the second judgment, coming in from on high, within 2 months of Christians being denied rights to oppose homosexuality. A Christian couple who ran an hotel were fined for refusing to allow a gay 'married' couple stay in one of their rooms. And this is not the only story of Christians being hounded out of jobs, or fined for like things. Last year a teacher was removed from his post because he would not teach the normalisation of queerdom.

    These decisions all boil down to the same essential logic - hedonistic, selfish, narcissistic, libertarian pleasure seeking trumps Christianity, purity, holiness and loving self-sacrifice.
    Freedom = no Christian clap-trap. Gays = superior, enlightened and modern. Christians = obscurantist, outdated and stupid. Gay rights trump Christian rights.

    I pray to Sts. Thomas à Becket, John Fisher, Thomas More, Augustine of Canterbury, and Bl. J.H.Newman and all the English Martyrs that I shall be able to raise my children free from the stinking fetters of liberalism.

  12. William,

    That is very sad.

    I pray that you and your family shall endure these rough times. The future does indeed look bleak, but the Lord always keeps His faithful, and He will keep you.

  13. I am reminded of attempts at book-banning here in America, where the offended parties declare that their religious sensibilities are insulted and violated by the presence of a book in the public library that they need never take out. I am reminded of the states in America that do not allow gay adoption. I am reminded of the legal struggle of the Maetreum of Cybele which finally resolved here:
    Trying to deny the rights of the "other" is something that is quite common for conservatives, or Christians. This is made startlingly clear in the book American Taliban, by Markos Moulitsas. Saying that "liberalism" is somehow intolerant based on its nature ignores vast amounts of this nations political history, or even the history of other countries.

  14. Richard:

    The "other" is the Seventh Day Adventist couple who were denied the opportunity to exercise their Christian charity in providing a foster home simply because they believed that one's sexual powers, like one's mental and rational powers, have an intrinsic purpose to them.

    For the record, what Ed means by liberalism is not classical liberalism or even the liberalism of the American founding, but Rawlsian liberalism, a liberalism that pretends to be neutral but at the end of the day demands that our laws reflect only one understanding of the good, the true, and the beautiful. And dissenters are excluded from the conversation a priori based on a capricious and self-serving definition of public reason.

    Remember, according to Rawlsian liberalism the state may not coerce you on a matter of a fundamental liberty if you are rational in rejecting the constraint. So, you'd think that a Rawlsian would be appalled at the treatment of the UK couple, since their view of human sexuality is connected to a reasonable comprehensive doctrine (as Rawls defines it), one that reason does not require that they deny. Where are all the Rawlsians coming to their defense? There are none. Why? It's a ruse. They will call your view "reasonable" only insofar as they can require you not to coerce them since their view is equally reasonable. But once they control the levers of power, "reasonableness" shrinks to exclude comprehensive doctrines that do not acquiesce to the sensibilities of the sexual revolution.

    It is no coincidence that Rawlsian liberalism arises around the time comprehensive liberalism begins losing the intellectual battle. So, what was needed was a way to win without having to argue. It's a brilliant strategy, but deeply unphilosophical.

  15. Frank,

    I was watching the first episode of the very first DVD of the "Agatha Christie's Poirot" series (starring Suchet of course) when I read your post:

    "Sometimes the simplest coincidence is not all that it appears.

    There are days when none of us can see the hand in front of our face, when even I, Hercule Poirot, cannot see what is staring plainly at me between the eyes.

    Analysis and synthesis, there lies the key to the art of deduction. To strip apart the evidence, detail by detail, to its barest essentials, until, miraculously, all of the pieces, they just fall into place, and we have the complete picture of everything that happened."

    This is explained while he does a magic trick for Miss Lemon by tearing apart the cut-out newspaper article about the (pictured) missing financier feared dead, and then wadding it up until the process becomes his unfolding of the article completely intact.

    The missing financier planned it all, framing his rival of his own faked murder in the process.

  16. www.philosophyclass.netMarch 4, 2011 at 3:41 PM

    I believe this general principle is probably true:

    "The lowest tolerated morality tends to become the norm."

  17. Tony

    -Rightly said. I mean "amusing" in a rueful sense. The lawlessness of the establishment is depressing, but no so depressing as the culture's refusal to work up any outrage over it.

    At the same time lets not put our heads in the oven. "The culture" is pretty much always a mess regardless of who is championing that mess. Likewise, the mortality of political power is also constant. The Aquila, Swastika and Sickle and Hammer all went the way of the dodo because all the sword points in the world can't kill the least part of truth.

  18. I don't think liberals are blind to their double-standard. I think they just don't care. They're the exception.

    Then, there is no double standard. Just one standard.

  19. Surely the Church also preaches against excessive accumulation of wealth and excessive consumption of food? When will the pc brigade declare a war on her for hurting the feelings of the rich and the gluttonous?

  20. Here we go. Nice to see this sort of clap-trap knocked down. Turns out, the court didn't rule that the couple can't adopt, and there is nothing keeping them from continuing on with their application. Conservative victimhood dies again. http://blog.drake-comms.co.uk/2011/02/28/misplaced-outrage-over-high-court-ban-on-christian-foster-parents/