11

Leftism as Substitute Religion

 

The howls of incoherent fury with which much of the left has greeted the advent of the Trump administration seems quite strange until we recall that leftism is essentially not a political movement for many of its adherents but rather a substitute for religion.  John Daniel Davidson at The Federalist understands this:

 

The consternation and outrage we’ve seen in response to President Trump’s executive order on immigration has little to do with the policy as such. Restricting immigration from certain countries is nothing new; President Obama did it, as did presidents Bush, Clinton, H.W. Bush, and Reagan.

Rather, it has everything to do with the elevation of progressive politics to the status of a religion—a dogmatic and intolerant religion, whose practitioners are now experiencing a crisis of faith.

Forget the executive order itself. Progressives have reacted with moral indignation and hysteria to everything Trump has done since taking office. His inauguration was enough to bring out hundreds of thousands of protesters across the country. In the 12 days since then, we have witnessed yet more demonstrations, boycotts, calls for “resistance,” comparisons to the Holocaust, media witch-hunts, the politicization of everything from Hollywood awards shows to professional sports, and real tears from New York Sen.Chuck Schumer.

One is hard-pressed to think of something Trump could do that would not elicit howls of outrage from the Left. On Tuesday, Senate Democrats boycotted confirmation hearings for Steven Mnuchin’s nomination to serve as treasury secretary and Rep. Tom Price’s nomination to be secretary of Health and Human Services, while continuing to try to block the confirmation of Betsy DeVos for education secretary and Sen. Jeff Session for attorney general. Even before Trump announced his Supreme Court pick on Tuesday night, Democrats had already announced they would filibuster the nomination, no matter who it was.

The obstinacy of Senate Democrats reflects the mood of their progressive base, whose panicked anger is the natural reaction of those for whom politics has become an article of faith. Progressives, as the terms implies, believe society must always be progressing toward something better. Always forward, never backwards. After eight years of Obama, they believed progressive politics in America would forever be on an upward trajectory.

The Left Has Been Moralizing Politics For A Long Time

Trump shook that faith. But his election also unmasked the degree to which progressivism as a political project is based not on science or rationality, or even sound policy, but on faith in the power of government to ameliorate and eventually perfect society. All the protests and denunciations of Trump serve not just as an outlet for progressives’ despair, but the chance to signal their moral virtue through collective outrage and moral preening—something that wasn’t really possible under Obama, at least not to this degree.

Not that they didn’t try. Recall that during the Obamacare debate in 2009 Ezra Klein suggested that Sen. Joe Lieberman was “willing to cause the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people in order to settle an old electoral score,” simply because he threatened to filibuster what would become the Affordable Care Act. This is the language of political fundamentalism—policy invested with the certainty of religious conviction.

Religious fundamentalism of course rests on immutable truths that cannot be negotiated. For Klein, that meant health care reform. The same rhetoric—“willing to cause the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people”—would crop up again and again during Obama’s tenure, every time a Republican governor refused to expand Medicaid or a state attorney general challenged an EPA regulation meant to curb climate change. Policy debates took on a theological significance. Continue Reading

24

Substitute Religions and Tolerance

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David Gelernter,a professor of computer science at Yale, has noted the snarling hatred that seems to dominate the left in this country and believes he understands its source:

Where does the asymmetry come from? American conservatives tend to be Christians or Jews. Liberals tend to be atheists or agnostics. (Yes, there are exceptions—to nearly everything, always; but that doesn’t mean we can stop thinking.) Almost all human beings need religion, as subway-riders need overhead grab bars. The religious impulse strikes conservatives and liberals alike. But conservatives usually practice the religion of their parents and ancestors; liberals have mostly shed their Judaism or Christianity, and politics fills the obvious spiritual gap. You might make football, rock music, or hard science your chosen faith. Some people do. But politics, with its underlying principles and striking public ceremonies, is the obvious religion substitute.

Hence the gross asymmetry of modern politics. For most conservatives, politics is just politics. For most liberals, politics is their faith, in default of any other; it is the basis of their moral life. Continue Reading

12

Politics as Religion and Moral Code

 

 

Kirsten Powers, who is rapidly becoming my favorite liberal, is a liberal who actually prizes tolerance and intellectual diversity, and she is noticing that she is becoming a rather rare bird among her ideological colleagues:

 

This week, a trail-blazing woman was felled in the new tradition of commencement shaming. International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde withdrew from delivering the commencement speech at Smith College following protests from students and faculty who hate the IMF. According to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, this trend is growing. In the 21 years leading up to 2009, there were 21 incidents of an invited guest not speaking because of protests. Yet, in the past five-and-a-half years, there have been 39 cancellations.

Don’t bother trying to make sense of what beliefs are permitted and which ones will get you strung up in the town square. Our ideological overlords have created a minefield of inconsistency. While criticizing Islam is intolerant, insulting Christianity is sport. Ayaan Hirsi Ali is persona non grata at Brandeis University for attacking the prophet Mohammed. But Richard Dawkins describes the Old Testament God as “a misogynistic … sadomasochistic … malevolent bully” and the mob yawns. Bill Maher calls the same God a “psychotic mass murderer” and there are no boycott demands of the high-profile liberals who traffic his HBO show. Continue Reading

6

ObamaCare as Cargo Cult

Obama and Friend

 

Daniel Greenfield at Sultan Knish nails it:

Our modernity is style rather than substance. It’s Obama grinning. It’s the right font. It’s the right joke. It’s that sense that X knows what he’s doing because he presents it the right way. There’s nothing particularly modern about that. In most cultures, the illusion of competence trumps the real thing. It’s why so many countries are so badly broken because they go by appearances, rather than by results.

The idea that we should go by results, rather than by processes, by outcomes rather than by appearances, was revolutionary. For most of human history, we were trapped in a cargo cult mode. We did the “right things” not because they led to the right results, but because we had decided that they were the right things. There were many competent people, but they were hamstrung by rigid institutions that made it impossible to go from Point A to Point B in the shortest possible time.

And we’re right back there today. The entire process of ObamaCare was the opposite of going from Point A to Point B. It was the least competent and efficient solution every step of the way. There was no reason to think that its website would be any better. The process that led to it being dumped on the American people was completely devoid of any notion of testing or outcomes. It was the right thing to do because… it was the right thing to do. It was cargo cult logic all the same. So was its website.

Healthcare.gov, like ObamaCare, was going to work because it was “good”. Its goodness was by some measure other than result. It was morally good. It was progressive. And so the deity of liberal causes, perhaps Karl Marx or Progressia, the Goddess of Soup and Economic Dysfunction, would see to it that it would work. Karma would kick in and everything would work out because it had to.

This brand of magical thinking was once commonplace. It still is. And it’s why things so rarely work out in some of the more messed up parts of the world. But the sort of attitude that would once have made anthropologists shake their heads is now commonplace here. Savages in suits, barbarians with iPads are certain that things will work because they have appeased the gods of modernity with their fonts, they have made a website that looks like a functioning website. And like the cargo culters who built fake control towers expecting planes to land, they thought that their website would work.

Competence is built on the unhappy understanding that things won’t work because you want them to, they won’t work if you go through the motions, they will only work if you understand how a thing works and then make it work by building it, by testing it and by expecting failure every step of the way and wrestling with the problem until you get it right. Continue Reading

71

Ryan and the Catholic Left

 

 

 

The reaction of the Catholic Left in this country to Paul Ryan has been completely predictable.  This is a movement, with honorable exceptions, that long ago fell into lockstep behind the “abortion now, abortion forever” policy of the Democrat party.  When a pro-life Catholic like Paul Ryan arises they must strive, by any means necessary, to drag him down to their level as dissenters against basic Catholic teaching.  Bill McGurn in the Wall Street Journal has a brilliant column looking at this phenomenon:

Say this for the liberal impulse in American Catholicism: In its day, it leavened the faith. Against the church’s tendencies to clericalism, it promoted the contributions of the laity. Against suspicions in Rome, it championed the American experiment. In particular, the liberal impulse advanced the idea of religious liberty for all that would ultimately triumph in the 1960s at the Second Vatican Council.

No longer, alas. Today the liberal impulse in American Catholic life has substituted political for religious orthodoxy. In retrospect, the turning point is easy to spot: liberal Catholicism’s acquiescence in the Democratic Party’s drift toward supporting abortion at a time when church leaders had the influence to stop it.

So here we are in 2012, when all but one of the active senators and representatives who are members of the official Catholics for Obama campaign team enjoy a 100% approval rating from NARAL Pro-Choice America.

This fundamental dissent from a basic church teaching is now a fact of modern Democratic Catholic life. The result for our politics is an extraordinary campaign, in the 10 days since Paul Ryan became the Republican candidate for vice president, by those on the Catholic left to strike a moral equivalence between Mr. Ryan’s reform budget and Democratic Catholic support for the party’s absolutist position on abortion.

Thus the column in the National Catholic Reporter characterizing Mr. Ryan as a “champion of dissent” regarding the church’s social teaching. Or the headline at the website Jezebel, “Badass Nun Says Paul Ryan is a Bad Catholic.” When this sort of thing seeps into the mainstream, it takes the form of the recent article in the Washington Post that found moral parallels between the two vice-presidential candidates: Mr. Ryan is a dissenter from “social justice,” while Vice President Joe Biden, also Catholic, dissents on issues such as same-sex marriage and abortion.

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Mr. Ryan’s own bishop, the Most Rev. Robert C. Morlino, addressed the subject with his most recent column in the diocesan paper for Madison, Wis. The church, he wrote, regards abortion as an “intrinsic evil” (meaning always and everywhere wrong, regardless of circumstances). In sharp contrast, he said, on issues such as how best to create jobs or help the poor, “there can be difference according to how best to follow the principles which the church offers.”

“I’m not endorsing Paul Ryan,” the bishop told me later by phone. “People are free to disagree with him, and disagree vehemently. But it’s wrong to suggest that his views somehow make him a bad Catholic.” Continue Reading