The double standard may well be the most characteristic feature of the leftist cultural order under which we now live. A particularly revealing instance of the double standard was the media's wall-to-wall obsession with the Abu Ghraib abuses, combined with its refusal to show the tape of the savage beheadings of innocent Americans by Islamist killers. While conservatives complain endlessly (one might even say boringly) about the double standard, however, they have signally failed to understand it. One explanation may be that today's leftists deceptively describe their politics as “liberal,” a fiction to which conservatives have all too willingly subscribed.
Conservatives have done this partly out of naïveté and partly out of a desire not to be polarizing, since their most basic need as conservatives is to affirm the harmony and cohesion of the existing order. Treating leftists as "liberals," they are constantly surprised and scandalized at the "liberals'" illiberal intolerance. They deceive themselves in regarding political correctness and the double standard as extraneous to liberalism, as a mistake or silly excess or regrettable hypocrisy, which, if pointed out to the "liberals," the "liberals" will renounce.
On confronting any given instance of the double standard, the typical conservative will say something like this: "What would happen if a Republican had said that racist thing, or improperly taken that top secret document, or groped that woman in the White House?" He then leaves the rhetorical question hanging in the air, as if the question alone were sufficient to condemn the double standard once and for all and prevent the "liberals" from using it again. He never seems to notice that his brilliant exposure of the double standard fails to stop his "liberal" adversaries for even a single beat.
Another form the double standard takes is some general rule from which only conservatives are excluded. To such unfairness, the typical conservative responds as follows: "You liberals say you believe in openness, tolerance, and diversity. Yet you want to exclude and silence conservatives. We conservatives believe in a true diversity of viewpoints that would include both liberals and conservatives."
All of which is true, of course. But unfortunately, that is as far as the typical conservative ever takes the argument. Apart from accusing the "liberals" of hypocrisy or bias and calling on them to return to true liberalism, conservatives never suspect that there may be something about "liberalism's" essential nature that has generated this double standard, and that will keep generating it as long as "liberalism" itself survives.
Let us therefore go beyond these futile complaints about the double standard and instead ask why the double standard is so characteristic of today's "liberalism." Once we answer that question, we may be in a position to combat the double standard effectively, instead of spending the rest of our lives complaining impotently about it.
The inherent injustice of equality
The basic reason for the "liberal" double standard has already been alluded to. It is that today's "liberals" are really leftists who have rejected the older liberal belief in a shared equality of citizens before the law and have embraced the socialist vision of "equality as a fact and equality as a result," as Lyndon Johnson famously put it. Since people are unequal in their ability to accumulate property, as Hayek argued in the Mirage of Social Justice, equality of results can only be pursued by treating people unequally. This is the origin of the double standard.
Moreover, since socialism has been discredited following the fall of Soviet Communism, the left has for tactical reasons largely shifted its demand for equality of results away from the economic sphere to the cultural/moral sphere and the advancement of "oppressed" cultural and ethnic groups. The result is cultural socialism, which entails the same kind of bureaucratically imposed egalitarian “solution” as existed under the older socialism, and thus leads to a cultural double standard. This cultural double standard goes something like this: Since "we" (e.g., whites, Westerners, Christians, men, conservatives, Americans, the U.S. armed forces, Republicans, and heterosexuals) constitute an allegedly dominant group in society and are better off than the "Other" (e.g., nonwhites, non-Westerners, Moslems, women, liberals, immigrants, enemy combatants, Democrats, and homosexuals), our superior position violates the imperative of equality. In order for the desired state of equality to be attained, we, the unfairly dominant group, must be condemned, excluded, and dragged down, while the Other must be celebrated, included, and raised up. In short, in the name of equality, society is divided into two radically distinct groups, to which radically different rules apply.
Under this "liberal" regime, for example, the cultures of recent immigrants are regarded as having the same importance as the historic American culture, an "equality" that is systematically reflected in text books and curricula, in museums and other cultural institutions, and even in political rhetoric and national symbols. But such artificial equality, by its very nature, downgrades and diminishes our national identity while placing unassimilated and often hostile immigrants and their cultures at the "heart of America," as Bill Bradley once approvingly put it. The same is true of the "liberal" perspective on the Middle East conflict. The claims of Israelis and Palestinians are regarded as equally legitimate. But since the Palestinians do not accept the existence of Israel, to accord Israelis and Palestinians "equal" political rights in the same land is to delegitimize and destroy a civilized country while empowering a culturally diseased community that straps bombs to its children and celebrates the mass murder of innocents with outbreaks of communal ecstasy.
The key point is that the double standard results automatically from the demand for equality between inherently unequal things. The double standard is not a mere excess or defect of leftism, but its essence.
The problem can perhaps be better understood by considering how the leftist view of justice departs from the traditional Western view of justice. Traditional morality and classical philosophy define justice as giving each person his due, with equals getting equal results and unequals getting unequal results. Leftism, as we have said, defines justice as the guaranteed equality of outcome between individuals of unequal abilities and accomplishments. But equality between unequals cannot be just (because it involves the expropriation of the justly earned fruits of more talented labor) and is incompatible with liberty (because it requires force to achieve). To give the same to everyone requires that undeserved disadvantages be imposed on the more productive and therefore "better off" individuals and that undeserved benefits be provided to the less productive and therefore "worse off" individuals. In a vast inchoate society of many millions of people, equality of outcome can only be pursued by the systematic dragging down of entire classes of persons for the sake of undeserving strangers.
Furthermore, in order to justify this unjust system, the society must lie to its members about how the differences between the respective groups came about. It must claim that the more abundant goods possessed by the better-off group were all attained unfairly, by the oppression or exploitation of the worse-off group. It must devalue individual initiative and creativity and all the other virtues that make for the building up of civilization, while excusing (and ultimately rewarding) failure, misbehavior, and crime.
This double standard, once again, applies as much to the cultural and moral sphere as to the economic. For example, the belief in equality requires leftists to delegitimize anyone who upholds the traditional moral code, and to excuse anyone who violates it, because traditional morality says that some behaviors are objectively better than others, which is (to leftists) discriminatory. The belief in equality requires leftists to demand the virtual dismantling of Christianity, because, as James Carroll claims in his anti-Christian opus, Constantine's Sword, Christianity, by its very existence and its claim to being the true religion, denigrates Judaism and the Jews; Carroll isn't bothered that every sentence of his book denigrates Christianity and Christians.
In the same way, the belief in equality requires leftists to be indifferent or hostile to Western culture, regardless of its virtues, and to excuse and celebrate non-Western cultures, regardless of their vices, because Western culture is currently the successful and "dominant" culture. Indeed, under the inverted moral order of leftism, the more backward or even savage a non-Western culture happens to be, the more we must puff it up, cover its sins, and blame its catastrophes on ourselves. Thus the glowing, celebratory documentaries on the history of Islam, such as "Empire of Faith" and "Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet" (described by National Review Online as a "whitewashed commercial for Islam"), that have become a staple on Public Television over the last three years, during the very period when the totalitarian and murderous nature of a significant section of the Islamic community has become horribly apparent. Thus 9/11 Commission vice chairman Lee Hamilton's statement that Moslems blame us (justly, he implies) for their poverty and backwardness, and that to win their trust (!) in the war on terror we must create a giant welfare state for the whole Islamic world—providing new kinds of schools for them, ending their poverty, giving them democracy, and so on. It follows from Hamilton's thoroughly "liberal" premise that if the Moslems continue to distrust and hate us despite our massive assistance, that would only show that we have not yet done "enough" for them and must do more.
As the cultural leftists and "liberals" see it, to excuse and celebrate our enemies and blame ourselves for their problems is not to practice a vicious and suicidal double standard; it is merely to seek equality, which is a universal good that enriches the humanity of all of us. This claim is demonstrably false. To establish homosexuality as a social norm while banning the disapproval of homosexuality, as today's "liberals" are now doing, is not a universal agenda benefiting all mankind but a very particular agenda, aimed at empowering one concrete interest—radical sexual liberation—and at disempowering another concrete interest—the traditional social and moral order. By convincing everyone that their agendas represent the advance of a general "fairness" and "humanity" to which no decent person could object, modern "liberals" assure that no one can criticize these agendas on any principled ground. The result is that public discourse about the public good—politics itself—comes to an end. As an example of this abolition of politics, consider the fact that anyone who seriously opposes the unconstitutional imposition of homosexual marriage, one of the most radical social innovations in the history of the world, is automatically dismissed and shunned by many people today as a bigot or a cynical political manipulator. Consider the fact that as a result of the Boy Scouts' moral and constitutional refusal to hire open homosexuals as Scoutmasters, many American cities now treat that once honored organization as a pariah.
Therefore the real debate that we conservatives must seek to join with our "liberal" adversaries is not between their alleged support for equality and tolerance and our alleged bigotry and hatred. The real debate is between their desire to dismantle our traditional morality, institutions, and culture, and our desire to preserve our traditional morality, institutions, and culture—indeed our very freedom and existence as a people.
Modern liberalism is a leftist and nihilistic rebellion against the inherently unequal nature of the human condition. If we conservatives named this ideology for what it is, we would have a fair chance to defeat it or at least stem its advance. But if we go on imagining that leftists are liberals who share with us a common moral consensus as Americans—if we continue to regard their hateful assaults on us and our institutions as expressions of "silly" political correctness rather than of their fundamental drive to abolish our system of government and destroy us as a people, then we will be unable to oppose them in any way that counts, and they will keep driving us and our civilization backwards, step by step, until finally nothing remains. If we are effectively to oppose modern liberalism with its destructive double standards, we must oppose it on principle.
Lawrence Auster is the author of Erasing America: The Politics of the Borderless Nation. He runs the weblog View from the Right.