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Liberal Rage By: Keith Burgess-Jackson
TechCentralStation.com | Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Why are liberals such as Paul Krugman, Michael Moore, and Howard Dean so angry and aggressive? I like to think that I have insight into this matter, since I was a liberal for a long time. If you haven't been a liberal, you may be puzzled by what you hear and read from them. They may seem -- dare I say it? -- insane, or at least discombobulated.

The first thing you must realize is that liberals have a program. They are visionaries. They envision a world in which everyone controls the same amount of resources. Nobody is born to privilege or disadvantage; or, if anyone is, it is swiftly neutralized by the state. To allow disadvantage, they believe, is to become a participant in it. Society, to the liberal mind, is a massive engineering project. Most of us distinguish misfortune and injustice. Not the liberal. No misfortune goes unaddressed by the social engineers. It is presumed -- conclusively, without evidence or argument -- that disparities in wealth are the result of morally arbitrary factors (accidents of birth or circumstance) rather than individual character, effort, discipline, work, or merit.


As the philosopher John Kekes has pointed out so eloquently (see here), liberals disregard or discount concepts that loom large in the thinking of most of us, such as personal responsibility and desert. Most of us believe that responsibility and desert should play a role in the distribution of benefits and burdens. Liberals disagree. Deep down, liberals deny that anyone is responsible for anything. What we are, in terms of personal character, is a function of circumstances beyond our control. How we behave depends solely on our environment. Our very choices are determined, not free. Liberalism dissolves the person. To the liberal, we are loci of movement rather than initiators of action, patients rather than agents, heteronomous rather than autonomous beings. Liberals will deny this, of course, but look at their beliefs and policy prescriptions.


Liberals, unlike conservatives, are zealous. Like all zealots (true believers), they are eager to implement their program, but when they attempt to do so, they meet resistance. This resistance frustrates them immensely and eventually leads to anger toward and aggression against those who stand in their way (or are perceived as standing in their way). Ideally, liberals would rationally persuade those who resist in the hope of bringing them around. But this doesn't work. Belief in personal responsibility and desert is widespread and entrenched. Time and again, liberals run up against it. Since it seems obvious to them that the belief is baseless, they tell themselves a story about why it's pervasive.


It's a multifaceted story. First, the liberal imagines that the belief in question is rooted in ignorance. Opponents of the liberal program simply don't know the facts about responsibility and desert. But when liberals try to convey these "facts," they get no uptake. Indeed, they get denial. This leads to the stupidity hypothesis. Opponents of the liberal program aren't so much ignorant of facts as incapable of reasoning from and about them. In other words, they're stupid or unintelligent. They're incapable of thinking clearly or carefully, even about important matters such as equality, justice, and fairness. This explains the liberal mantra that conservatives, such as Presidents Reagan and Bush, are stupid. (See here for an explanation of this false liberal belief.) Note that if conservatives are stupid, liberals, by contrast, are intelligent. It's all very self-serving.


Deep down, liberals know that conservatives are no less intelligent than they are. It just makes them feel good to say as much. So they attribute the pervasive belief in responsibility and desert to greed. Opponents of the liberal program are greedy. They won't admit the truth because they don't want to share the wealth. They take the positions they do, on matters such as affirmative action and welfare, to solidify their social position. Greed is bad, of course, so if you reject the liberal program, you're evil. You put self-interest ahead of justice.


Here, in one neat package, we have all the liberal platitudes. Conservatives are ignorant, stupid, and evil, or some combination of the three. Either they don't grasp the obvious truth or they're incapable of thinking clearly or they don't give a damn about anyone but themselves. Liberals, of course, are the opposite of all these. They're knowledgeable, intelligent, and good. Note that if you believe your opponents to be stupid or evil, you don't try to reason with them. Stupid people, like animals and children, need guidance by their superiors. Evil people need suppression. It's often been remarked that liberals are less adept than conservatives at arguing for their views. Now you see why. They don't practice.


That, in a nutshell, is the liberal mentality. It explains why liberals are so angry, hateful, and spiteful and why they resort to courts rather than to legislatures to implement their vision of the just society. They have given up hope of engaging their adversaries on rational ground. They know that they can't muster a majority for their causes. To liberals, only the outcome matters, not the process. Without power, their egalitarianism is mere fantasy. But conservatives should be careful not to dismiss it as such, for liberals have demonstrated that they will do whatever it takes to secure and retain power. We saw it in the case of Robert Bork. We saw it in the case of Bill Clinton. We see it in the case of war in Iraq.


To the liberal, the end justifies the means.


Take it from me, a former liberal.


Keith Burgess-Jackson, J.D., Ph.D., is a frequent contributor to Tech Central Station. He is Associate Professor of Philosophy at The University of Texas at Arlington, where he teaches courses in Logic, Ethics, Philosophy of Religion, and Philosophy of Law. He has two stinkers, Sophie and Shelbie, and two hyperactive blogs: AnalPhilosopher and Animal Ethics.

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