Liberals have erected an elaborate apology to justify the centralized administrative state run by liberals. They need this apology because at the heart of liberalism is a profound contradiction, writes Peter Berkowitz.
The paradox of American progressivism, old and new, is rooted in the gap between its professed devotion to democracy, or the idea that the people legitimately rule, and its belief that democracy consists in a set of policies independent of what the people want.
In order to deal with this contradiction, believing in democracy in the abstract, but determined to impose their agenda anyway, liberals have come up with three ideologies, says Berkowitz.
The first is John Rawls and Deliberative Democracy. John Rawls is famous for his Theory of Justice in which he sets up a contract theory of politics that justifies liberal politics.
According to Rawls, justice concerns the principles that free and equal citizens would adopt to govern themselves if they thought impartially, objectively, and rationally about their condition as human beings. It has two basic parts: fundamental and inviolable liberties, and an obligation on the part of the state to adopt "measures ensuring for all citizens adequate all-purpose means to make effective use of their freedoms" [emphasis added]...
But unofficially and in practice, Rawls's theory of justice, certainly as adopted by professors of practical ethics and applied to public affairs, is distinguished by more. It also purports to derive from "public reason," or the abstract principles and rules that structure public debate, substantive public policies and disqualify others. It's as if the rules of baseball told you not only how to play the game, but also who ought to win and who ought to lose.
Very convenient. It lets liberals decide what is legitimate and what is not. They know what the people would choose, "were it not for their poor education, combined with passions and prejudices corrupted by the imperfections of social life and the inequities of the market economy."
Then there is Richard Rorty and Pragmatism. This notion seeks to equate liberal progressive reform with justice itself. It is not so much pragmatic as picking up where the pragmatists like John Dewey left off, proposing democracy as a kind of civic faith: "democracy is neither a form of government nor a social expediency, but a metaphysic of the relation of man and his experience in nature." Rorty argues that:
the proper aim of American politics is nothing less than to embody in social and political life "a new conception of what it is to be human." And the utopian overtones are no accident. This new conception, Rorty reveals, rejects all claims to "knowledge of God's will, Moral Law, the laws of History or the Facts of Science." All the better, exhorts Rorty, to make "shared utopian dreams" the guide to pragmatic and progressive politics.
As with Rawls's ideas, Rorty is just providing a crude apology for the liberal faith. Liberalism is democratic because liberals call their program and their faith "Democracy."
Finally, Berkowitz calls up the "empathy" brigade, that we last saw justifying the liberal jurisprudence of Sonya Sotomayor. This Empathy, according to President Obama is "a call to stand in somebody else's shoes and see through their eyes." The problem is that we are only called to empathize with the eyes of a "wise Latina." White middle class men need not apply.
The problem with these three liberal delusions is not that it deludes liberals into thinking that theirs is the only true democratic thought. The problem is that it does not engage with the real problem, the daily clash with reality: what do you do when things do wrong?
Government is force, politics is power. It is OK to use government for things that require force, like wars and policing. But what about things that don't require force? How do you fix a Social Security system that is going bankrupt? How do you balance the need of senior citizens for health care with the need of young parents for education for their children? How do you balance the desire of some parents for a creative education for their children and other parents for a Three Rs education? Centralized administrative government by an educated elite wants to set up a permanent, one size fits all answer to any political problem, and thus has no answer for these questions. For the truth is that all economic activity is characterized by ceaseless change and adaptation to new and unexpected conditions.
That is why liberals today are flummoxed and in denial. There is no allowance in their system for the reality that, as soon as their comprehensive mandatory program for health care, or education, or welfare is in place, it is immediately overtaken by events. From that moment on, the program finds itself trying to catch up with events and never succeeding.
Now you know why liberals are forced into demonizing their political opponents as racists and haters. For it cannot be, it must not be that the failures of all those government programs mean that a whole century of centralized liberal government has been one long disastrous error for which ordinary Americans are about to pay the terrible price.