From time to time it is useful to revisit the mindset of our friends on the Left, for while the aims of many of them are reactionary and their methods deleterious, they represent a significant set of mainstream aspirations and beliefs, which conservatives must be willing to address in our endless struggle to support founding principles.
Let us agree from the outset that there is an important distinction between the organized Left with its base in academia, the union movement, and the Democrat Party, and those millions of voters who see in these institutions a more reliable partner in the fulfillment of their desires than they do in the institutions of the Right.
We can reserve all our opprobrium and vilification for the “progressive”/rent-seeker axis without disparaging the honest and honorable aims of those voters. It might even be the case—although I am not particularly hopeful—that if we understand their point of view better we might be able to demonstrate how fealty to our founding principles would do better at meeting their goals than the axis itself. Of course, to make that happen, the key political instrument of the Right, the Republican Party, would have to re-examine its assumptions and methodology as well.
It would also require the honest leftist to re-examine some of the implications of this worldview upon the very health of the community that is his primary concern.
The average left-leaning citizen cannot understand how the wealthiest nation in human history still permits poverty and institutional obstacles to the pursuit of happiness. He earnestly believes that if everybody had the same chances in life, we all would do well. Therefore, the wealth gap is de facto evidence that too many people do not and cannot get the same chances that the privileged do.
He has a difficult time understanding why this simple observation is not in and of itself compelling enough to result in conscious rearrangements of the facts on the ground so that a fairer outcome obtains. Why would anyone in a supposedly Christian nation, he wonders, refuse to take responsibility for the conditions that generate suffering and personal defeat?
This picture and slogan capture perfectly the average leftist’s worldview:
This same compassion for his less fortunate citizens drives his willingness to take a holistic approach to the political economy. It was no accident that environmental activism—Teddy Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot notwithstanding—is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Left.
The capacity to take a view beyond his own personal concerns drives him to examine the complex array of dynamics that comprise human civilization in order to locate the patterns that control the flows of human, and not just economic, wealth. Once he came to realize that there is more to life than material consumption he sought those non-material goods that contribute to living the Good Life, which he equates with the “pursuit of happiness” cited in the Declaration of Independence. He has identified these non-material goods to include compassion and altruism, and therefore sought to incorporate these into the meaning of our founding principles.
This is the approach he believes genuine Christianity espouses.
While not instinctively a lover of government per se—he hasn’t entirely abandoned his Jeffersonian and Jacksonian roots—he assumes that the federal government is the only social institution available to drive the changes in our society that a great nation should naturally desire to become. Thus his default position is that anything that would improve the material and spiritual well being of the nation as a whole is appropriate to subject to the good offices of the federal government.
Isn’t this commitment, he wonders, a truly Christian one? Why don’t those who call themselves Christian apply these principles of Jesus to our national shame? Why does this not demonstrate the moral bankruptcy of the conservatives who embrace their Christianity as a political weapon?
That the vast majority of his fellow citizens do not yet take his enlightened point of view, he believes, can only be attributed to humanity’s fallen nature. We are all trapped by our selfishness and greed, and the institutions that we traditionally relied upon to liberate us from these sins—our churches and synagogues—have failed in their mission. Thus with varying degrees of enthusiasm he and his fellow leftists have become willing to imbue the federal government with a religious purpose it never had before the 1960s.
This transfer of religious mission from the traditional institutions of moral education and sanction to the secular agency of government is largely unconscious, driven primarily by the leftist’s utilitarian imperative of righting wrongs in the here and now. The moral obligation to end suffering by promoting equality of outcomes naturally trumps any constitutional technicalities that might be in the way.
This allows him to feel only a fleeting reluctance to demonize his opponents. Because he is convinced that the conditions afflicting the underprivileged could be remedied fairly easily if the political will to do so existed, he has come to endorse the ancient view that might makes right. Those that fail to apply his own enlightened metrics to analyzing the human condition with must be doing so out of selfish obduracy, and so do not deserve the respect formerly accorded fellow citizens.
And if might makes right, if the ends justify the means, then morally questionable tactics in service of the absolute moral good of reducing human suffering borne out of unfair and uncontrollable life circumstances are fully justified.
Part and parcel of this comprehensive social analysis is his noticing the salience of group characteristics in the straight white male dominance of the sanctum of privilege and control. He sees these people as determined to maintain their power against all those who are not like them. Extending the historic impact of racism in American history, the leftist sees race and sex as the central dividing lines between the privileged controllers of the means of material and spiritual success and those whom they seek to keep disempowered.
This has led him, over time, to decide that group rights are more decisive than individual liberties. People are oppressed because of the uncontrollable accident of group characteristics either acquired at conception or by other means completely outside their control. How can one exercise one’s personal freedom if all members of the group one belongs to are discriminated against or otherwise oppressed? Securing group rights is the only guarantee of individual liberty.
Thus, for example, abortion must be legal so that the universal right of women to control their reproductive cycles and choices cannot be coerced or denied by men.
To summarize, the average leftist is concerned with the welfare of the entire community. He sees elements of what constitute and promote this welfare in ways that too many of his fellow citizens do not. He is able to see these because he is bright and moral enough to account for the impacts of human activity that cause harm to health and liberty. He believes that a nation that promotes the blessings of liberty but does not deliver them is hypocritical and immoral. He accepts that government generally and the federal government particularly constitute the only effective instrument of redress. He will not rest until all groups enjoy equally in the prosperity of the nation. He believes that the chief resistance to his policy goals are selfish individuals who either don’t see or don’t care about the impacts of their behaviors upon others and the community as a whole. He has no particular allegiance to the nation’s founding principles or the U. S. Constitution when these tend to stand in the way of universal prosperity.
How far apart are we conservatives from this set of social desires?
Do we not also care about the welfare of the entire community? Do we not agree that individual choices can do serious harm to the collective? Do we not also want everyone to enjoy the blessings of liberty? Are we not disgusted by any governmental attempts to prevent people from this enjoyment because of minority group discrimination? Are we not equally committed to a Constitution that reflects the actual needs of the nation?
With a few exceptions—important ones, no doubt—the average leftist and the average conservative probably are in agreement about the kinds of outcomes we would wish each of us to enjoy. So what prevents consensus?
The RB will be taking close look at this critical question in future posts.