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Disaster: When You Want Solutions I Gotta Right to My Illusions

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The Power of the Liberal Taboos

by Christopher Chantrill
September 18, 2005 at 9:52 am


THE PRESIDENT’S mother, Barbara Bush, got into trouble recently for saying on NPR that the underprivileged African American refugees from hurricane Katrina were doing fine in Texas. “What I’m hearing, which is sort of scary,” she said on NPR, “is they all want to stay in Texas. Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality. And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this -- this is working very well for them.”

Then there is abortion. Last week the old Democratic war-horses rumbled up and down their Senate paddock snorting that Chief Justice nominee John Roberts would not discuss his thinking on Roe v. Wade. Liberal professor Erwin Chemerinsky told Hugh Hewitt that he had spoken to Democratic staffers and they reported “enormous anger right now among Democratic Senators.” As we come up to the twentieth anniversary of the borking of Robert Bork, what exactly do these politicians think conservative nominees to the Supreme Court are going to say to them?

In Germany, when the not-very Iron Lady Angela Merkel introduced a professor to her staff who advocates a move to a flat tax, Social Democratic Party leader Schroeder shamed her into distancing herself from the heretical tax, “calling it a ‘tax for millionaires’ and ‘the Merkel minus’ because it will eliminate middle-class tax benefits for education, child care and housing.” That kind of talk enabled him to demagogue the German election into a dead heat.

If conservatives are so powerful, why is it that liberals still retain the power to shame them when they break sacred liberal taboos on race, on sex, and even economic policy? Weren’t all taboos supposed to have been swept away as primitive superstitions about five minutes after the publication of Freud’s Totem and Taboo?

But taboo is not superstition. It is merely human. It expresses a sense that something is so powerful that it is dangerous even to think about it. That is why Robert Bork had to be destroyed back in 1987—not just for saying, but for thinking that Roe v. Wade was a bad idea.

In the United States in 2005 who can doubt that it is still too dangerous for educated women to think about the meaning of elevating the right not to have children into a sacrament. It is still too dangerous for liberals to think about the consequences of their bankrupt race policy: hopeless schools in minority areas and a black-on-white crime rate still six times higher than the white-on-black rate. So just as in Victorian times gentlemen are careful not to upset the delicate sensibilities of the ladies.

If we are not allowed to discuss fundamental questions in robust Anglo-Saxon, we are allowed at least to discuss them in Latinate euphemisms: Unemployment, Poverty, Diversity, Literacy, Equality, and Welfare.

Why do we talk about Unemployment instead of finding a job? And why do we talk about Literacy instead of learning to read?

Gertrude Himmelfarb in her study of nineteenth century Poverty and Compassion tells us what a neologism like “Unemployment” is for. It suggests “an impersonal condition resulting from impersonal causes.” It allows the elite to take charge of the lives of the poor. “Finding a job” is something that poor people do for themselves. “Unemployment” is something that politicians, activists, and pundits can attack with bureaucratic programs. “Literacy” is something that First Ladies work on. “Learning to read” is something that ordinary people do for themselves.

The right of the educated elite to organize and direct the lives of ordinary people derives from an Assumption of Competence. Scratch any scribbler or talking head: he clearly seems to know what he is talking about. But this assumption does not extend to ordinary people. The reverse of the medal of competence is the Presumption of Helplessness, the presumption that ordinary people need instruction and supervision in the education of their children and in the precaution against common life hazards.

The taboos of the welfare state mount a bodyguard of silence to protect a sacred principle, the Presumption of Helplessness. When Barbara Bush incautiously observes that the helpless refugees of New Orleans are doing fine in Houston, she is suggesting they might be able to shift for themselves. When John Roberts equivocates on Roe v. Wade he is genuflecting before the power of the sisters. When candidate Angela Merkel proposes a flat tax, she disturbs the tangled system that guides the German people in making life choices approved by their betters.

When the liberal taboos on race and abortion still have the power to shame, then liberals are still ahead in the culture war.

Christopher Chantrill blogs at www.roadtothemiddleclass.com.

Buy his Road to the Middle Class.

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What Liberals Think About Conservatives

[W]hen I asked a liberal longtime editor I know with a mainstream [publishing] house for a candid, shorthand version of the assumptions she and her colleagues make about conservatives, she didn't hesitate. “Racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-choice fascists,” she offered, smiling but meaning it.
Harry Stein, I Can't Believe I'm Sitting Next to a Republican

US Life in 1842

Families helped each other putting up homes and barns. Together, they built churches, schools, and common civic buildings. They collaborated to build roads and bridges. They took pride in being free persons, independent, and self-reliant; but the texture of their lives was cooperative and fraternal.
Michael Novak, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism

Taking Responsibility

[To make] of each individual member of the army a soldier who, in character, capability, and knowledge, is self-reliant, self-confident, dedicated, and joyful in taking responsibility [verantwortungsfreudig] as a man and a soldier. — Gen. Hans von Seeckt
MacGregor Knox, Williamson Murray, ed., The dynamics of military revolution, 1300-2050

Society and State

For [the left] there is only the state and the individual, nothing in between. No family to rely on, no friend to depend on, no community to call on. No neighbourhood to grow in, no faith to share in, no charities to work in. No-one but the Minister, nowhere but Whitehall, no such thing as society - just them, and their laws, and their rules, and their arrogance.
David Cameron, Conference Speech 2008

Socialism equals Animism

Imagining that all order is the result of design, socialists conclude that order must be improvable by better design of some superior mind.
F.A. Hayek, The Fatal Conceit


[Every] sacrifice is an act of impurity that pays for a prior act of greater impurity... without its participants having to suffer the full consequences incurred by its predecessor. The punishment is commuted in a process that strangely combines and finesses the deep contradiction between justice and mercy.
Frederick Turner, Beauty: The Value of Values

Responsible Self

[The Axial Age] highlights the conception of a responsible self... [that] promise[s] man for the first time that he can understand the fundamental structure of reality and through salvation participate actively in it.
Robert N Bellah, "Religious Evolution", American Sociological Review, Vol. 29, No. 3.

Religion, Property, and Family

But the only religions that have survived are those which support property and the family. Thus the outlook for communism, which is both anti-property and anti-family, (and also anti-religion), is not promising.
F.A. Hayek, The Fatal Conceit

Racial Discrimination

[T]he way “to achieve a system of determining admission to the public schools on a nonracial basis,” Brown II, 349 U. S., at 300–301, is to stop assigning students on a racial basis. The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.
Roberts, C.J., Parents Involved in Community Schools vs. Seattle School District


A writer who says that there are no truths, or that all truth is ’merely relative’, is asking you not to believe him. So don’t.
Roger Scruton, Modern Philosophy

Physics, Religion, and Psychology

Paul Dirac: “When I was talking with Lemaître about [the expanding universe] and feeling stimulated by the grandeur of the picture that he has given us, I told him that I thought cosmology was the branch of science that lies closest to religion. However [Georges] Lemaître [Catholic priest, physicist, and inventor of the Big Bang Theory] did not agree with me. After thinking it over he suggested psychology as lying closest to religion.”
John Farrell, “The Creation Myth”


Within Pentecostalism the injurious hierarchies of the wider world are abrogated and replaced by a single hierarchy of faith, grace, and the empowerments of the spirit... where groups gather on rafts to take them through the turbulence of the great journey from extensive rural networks to the mega-city and the nuclear family...
David Martin, On Secularization

presented by Christopher Chantrill

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