The evolution of liberalism (and “conservatism”)

My WWWtW co-blogger Lydia McGrew calls attention to this satire of theological liberalism’s approach to sexual morality. But today’s over-the-top satire is tomorrow’s Righteous Liberal Cause, and as readers of chapter 5 of The Last Superstition know, this is more or less inevitable given the metaphysical revolution that gave rise to liberalism. There is in principle no absurdity or abomination that the liberal cannot convince himself is really good and rational. The only limit is the current, temporary position of the cultural ratchet. This seems like a good time to reprint the following March 2007 post from the old Right Reason blog. (Go here for the original, complete with the combox discussion it generated.) Liberalism repeats itself, the first time as farce, the second time as tragedy. And as you marvel at the craziness engulfing the world around you, remember, kids: The horror is just beginning.

Steve Burton (citing David Frum) describes some chilling developments in the UK vis-à-vis the growing conflict between antidiscrimination laws and religious freedom. Chilling, but not at all surprising. The developments in question illustrate a pattern that is characteristic of liberalism as it slowly works out the implications of its underlying assumptions.

To the charge that liberals are (or, given their principles, should be) in favor of X [where X = legalizing abortion, liberalizing obscenity laws, banning smoking on private property, legalizing “same-sex marriage,” outlawing the public advocacy of traditional sexual morality, etc. etc.], the standard liberal response goes through about five stages (with, it seems, roughly 5-10 years passing between each stage, though sometimes the transition is much quicker than that). Here they are:

Stage 1: “Oh please. Only a far-right-wing nutjob would make such a paranoid and ridiculous accusation - I suppose next you’ll accuse us of wanting to poison your precious bodily fluids!”

Stage 2: “Well, I wouldn’t go as far as X. All the same, it’s good to be open-minded about these things. I mean, people used to think ending slavery was a crazy idea too…”

Stage 3: “Hey, the Europeans have had X for years and the sky hasn’t fallen. But no, I admit that this backward country probably isn’t ready for X yet.”

Stage 4: “Of course I’m in favor of X - it’s in the Constitution! Only a far-right-wing nutjob could possibly oppose it.”

Stage 5: “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can be used against you in a court of law…”

With respect to the severe threat to religious liberty described by Frum, we’re probably already at stage 2 here in the US. But given how quickly “same-sex marriage” has jumped from stage 1 to stage 4, I wouldn’t be surprised if mainstream American liberals start calling in five or ten years for restrictions on the rights of religious organizations to “discriminate” in hiring practices or publicly to teach doctrines that might be offensive to “sexual minorities.” (The theoretical groundwork is already there. See my review of Amy Gutmann’s book Identity in Democracy.) Or at least, this will be the inevitable next step if “same-sex marriage” makes serious headway in the US.

Fortunately, though, we can rely on conservatives to hold the line, and indeed to turn back liberal advances. Right?

Well, no, of course not. (You can stop rolling your eyes, I was being facetious.) For conservatives - or maybe I should say “conservatives” (since there’s very little that they ever actually manage to conserve, unless money is somehow involved) - seem to go through five stages of their own. Here they are:

Stage 1: “Mark my words: if the extreme left had its way, they’d foist X upon us! These nutjobs must be opposed at all costs.”

Stage 2: “Omigosh, now even thoughtful, mainstream liberals favor X! Fortunately, it’s political suicide.”

Stage 3: “X now exists in 45 out of 50 states. Fellow conservatives, we need to learn how to adjust to this grim new reality.”

Stage 4: “X isn’t so bad, really, when you think about it. And you know, sometimes change is good. Consider slavery…”

Stage 5: “Hey, I was always in favor of X! You must have me confused with a [paleocon, theocon, Bible thumper, etc.]. But everyone knows that mainstream conservatism has nothing to do with those nutjobs…”

Nope, they don’t call ‘em the Evil Party and the Stupid Party for nothing.
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