Friday, June 21, 2013

Do Liberals Sneer at the Responsible Individual?

Over the past year I've been developing the concept of the "responsible self" as the sine qua non of conservatism.  I stole the idea, fair and square, from Robert Bellah, who introduces the idea in his paper "Religious Evolution".

Bellah argues that the Axial Age featured the emergence of "historical religion" that featured not the old ways of propitiating the gods but a simple salvation concept: "the religious goal of salvation (or enlightenment, release and so forth) is for the first time the central religious preoccupation."

But this engages not the tribe but the individual.  It is the individual that will be saved, get enlightenment or burn in hell.  So each individual is called to take charge of his life to gain that priceless reward: salvation in the next world.  Here it is in scholar-speak.
The identity confusion characteristic of both primitive and archaic religions is radically challenged by the historic religious symbolization, which leads for the first time to a clearly structured conception of the self.  Devalutaion of the empirical world and the empirical self highlights the conception of a responsible self, a core self or a true self, deeper than the flux of everyday experience...  [T]he historic religions promise man for the first time that he can understand the fundamental structure of reality and through salvation participate actively in it.
This is the birth of individualism.  It is not the cartoon individualism, the center of selfishness and egoism, used as a straw man by our liberal friends.  It is the awful responsibility that ultimately I, not my comfortable family or tribe, is responsible for my life.  It is I and only I that will be judged at the Last Judgment.

Now when I wrote my latest American Thinker piece "The Consequences of Liberalism" I wrote the following about liberals and the responsible self:
It makes complete sense that liberals sneer at the responsible individual, the busy bourgeois, the independent householder, the church member, and harass them. The bourgeois middle class with its businesses, its adaptability, its families, its work and its savings represent the existential threat to liberal power and its curdling tribalism.
Then I got an email from a good liberal who took me to task on everything, but particular the sneer bit.
Liberals do NOT sneer at the responsible individual.  That is a total, and outrageous, lie.  What liberals advocate is that the opportunity to be a “responsible individual” be accorded to everyone; that each of us be accepted for what he, the individual, is, or wants to be. 
Actually, my interlocutor gives away the store.  The notion of the "responsible self" in the Axial Age religions and in modern conservatism is that each one of us is responsible to God (and by inference, society) for our lives.  But when you say that each of us be accepted for what we are or want to be, he is removing the fundamental argument of responsibility.  We can be whatever we want.  No problem.  No consequence.  No responsibility.  You get to be called a responsible individual even if you're not.

I've written elsewhere that liberals believe not in the responsible self but the creative self, the revolutionary self, the educated self, the marginalized self.  Anything but the responsible self.  But they can't really admit to themselves that they have turned against the responsible self even though the whole administrative welfare state is an attack on the responsible self and the whole culture, from Hollywood to TV sitcoms, is a sneer at the responsible self.  Why, in Pleasantville the point is made with a sledgehammer.  The boring responsible suburbanites are shown in black and white -- "Honey, I'm home! -- and the redemptive creative types are shown in living color.  Get it, rubes?

My liberal interlocutor has also drunk the KoolAid on Social Security.  "The government isn’t “spending money on pensions” if you’re including Social Security.  Although Congress was sufficiently stupid in the 70’s to move it into the Federal budget, the Federal budget system and tax stream do not fund SSI.  FICA funds it."  You gotta hand it to FDR and the Democrats.  They've got millions of people believing that the government actually segregates all that FICA money for Social Security.  At least President Obama has admitted that Medicare is a crook deal.
President Obama had Senate Republicans nodding in agreement during a recent ice-breaking dinner as he described a basic problem for the nation's fiscal future: For each dollar that Americans pay for Medicare, they ultimately draw about $3 in benefits. What's more, he added, most people do not understand that.
Any more than most people do not understand that Social Security is not an insurance program, but a simple income redistribution program from the young to the old.

But don't worry, sports fans.  Liberals won't be doing too much on the sneering front in the next few years.  It looks like the Obama administration is finally getting caught in the maelstrom of its vaporous rhetoric.  And it's only just begun.

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