by Victor Davis Hanson // PJ Media
Today’s liberalism is about as liberal as the Hellenistic world was Hellenic — a glossy veneer over a rotten core.
In the old days, liberalism was about the means to an end, not the end itself. Since the days of Socrates, liberalism enshrined free inquiry, guided by inductive thinking and empirical use of data. Its enemies were not necessary organized religion — some of the Church fathers sought to find their salvation through the means of neo-Platonic cosmology and Aristotelian logic — or government or traditional custom and practice, but rather deductive thinking anywhere it was found.
Yet today liberalism itself is deductive. It has descended into a constructed end that requires any means necessary to achieve it. Take any hot-button liberal issue: censorship, abortion, global warming, affirmative action, or illegal immigration. Note the liberal reaction.
I don’t like most of the assigned readings that now pass for the university’s seminal texts of the liberal arts. But on the other hand, I don’t believe in triggers to warn students of what is inside a book. Otherwise, I might insist that universities put a warning on Rigoberta Menchú’s or Barack Obama’s autobiographies: “Trigger Warning: these are fictive accounts that rely on occasional invention and adaption and so do not, as the authors have claimed, reflect actual events.” Nor would I want a written trigger for the book flap of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals, along the following lines: “Trigger Warning: Ms. Goodwin has admitted past plagiarism in her works, a fact that may be necessary to weigh when evaluating her present history.” Readers can determine for themselves to what degree past confessions of plagiarism should guide their own studies.
Nor do I favor yanking Bill Maher off television — in Paula Deen or Duck Dynasty fashion — for his serial profane and misogynist attacks on Sarah Palin and other conservative women. Nor do I want a running Trigger Warning on the bottom of the screen, as Maher talks: “Trigger Warning: We do not endorse Mr. Maher’s sometime misogynistic and reactionary use of slurs against prominent women with whom he disagrees.”
Nor do I think MSNBC must dump Al Sharpton for his past homophobic, anti-Semitic, and racist rants that have on occasion contributed to fatal violence. If they wish to put a buffoon who cannot read a teleprompted script on the air, then it is their market decision to do so, and we are adult enough to make the necessary channel selections. Nor do I think Chris Rock should apologize for calling the 4th of July “white people’s day,” or for that matter Jamie Foxx making a crude joke about the joy of killing white people as an actor in the latest Tarantino film. Free speech assumes that much of free speech is crude and vulgar.
Nor would I object if Hillsdale College, Pepperdine University, or any other traditional school chose to invite a Democratic or liberal graduation speaker whose views I oppose. I once attended a Pepperdine graduate school graduation address given by a liberal Los Angeles politician that was little more than an unhinged rant against George W. Bush — and politely clapped through her pathetic rambling.
If science now allows a premature child to live outside the womb at 20 weeks, that knowledge must remain an irrelevant fact. Champions of abortion who used to insist that fetuses were not viable outside the womb simply have dropped that argument altogether. They are not interested any more in the issue of when life begins, but rather wedded deductively to the notion of terminating a pregnancy at almost anytime the mother might wish to do so. The unexamined career of Dr. Gosnell was not the aberration, but the logical fruition of contemporary liberalism’s unquestioned embrace of abortion.
I don’t have the expertise to know exactly to what degree, if any, man-caused carbon releases since the Industrial Revolution have heated up the planet, or whether the supposed heating is deleterious to the human condition, or whether the deleteriousness can be addressed by global statutes that are equitably enforced around the world without causing greater impoverishment and suffering.
But I do know something about philology and the historical circumstances behind both euphemism and the constant shifting of vocabulary. Thus why did “global warming” begat “climate change” that sometimes begat “climate chaos”?
And why, at this time of history’s greatest carbon releases, has the planet not warmed in the last 17 years? Why was data massaged to create the so-called “hockey stick” paradigm? Why sue satirist Mark Steyn for an inconvenient truth, or denigrate opponents as “deniers” as if they were some sort of Holocaust deniers, if the data is unimpeachable and speaks for itself?
Add in the Climategate email scandals and the green hucksterism of an Al Gore or the crony capitalism that leads to a Solyndra scandal, and there are liberal grounds for skepticism and ongoing debate. As for settled science, I once was told as teenager to take Vitamin C but avoid D, and now to take D but avoid C, in the manner that the PSA test was once the touchstone to diagnosing prostate cancer and now not so much, and then again in the future perhaps again essential to an early diagnosis. What most directly leads to heart disease — fatty foods, too much meat, too many carbohydrates, inflammation, or high cholesterol? Do we know yet the precise factors responsible for coronary disease when collating weight, genetics, exercise, and food intake? We know that the sedentary obese are at higher risk, but does science yet tell us why the thin with low cholesterol sometimes drop dead at 60?
So when I hear the president state the science is “settled” and that he is prepared to act, he sounds like a Grand Inquisitioner who won’t tolerate heresies such as a round Earth or heliocentric solar system. No science is ever quite settled, as more data is constantly gathered and theories of exegesis rebound off each other.
When Eric Holder announces an endless affirmative action and leaves it at that, I want a classically liberal defense along the lines of something like the following: “We believe that preferences must be accorded to those of particular ethnic and racial backgrounds to compensate for past discrimination, whose legacy still makes it difficult even in the present age for particular groups to be treated equitably. And more importantly, we in the government have the ability to ascertain which groups are deserving of such preferences and which not, and also know how to determine which individuals meet precise criteria that earn them official minority status.” Instead, we get something tantamount to “either support something nebulous called affirmative action or you’re a racist.”
Then there is illegal immigration. Again, examine the philology, always the tip-off to an Orwellian rewrite. First we had illegal alien, then illegal immigrant, then undocumented immigrant, and now just immigrant. Such linguistic hocus pocus is necessary given the the present indefensible system of not enforcing the border, ignoring immigration law, and peddling the untruth that almost all illegal aliens fit the DREAM Act categories. Language must accomplish what reality cannot.
But modern-day liberalism is still stranger than all that: after crafting a system of open borders and de facto amnesty that has allowed millions of impoverished from central Mexico to reside in California, the architects of such a system then shut down almost all means to provide illegal aliens a livelihood: water diversions from agriculture, the near extinction of the timber and mining industries, taboos against fracking and horizontal drilling, a virtual shut-down of new housing construction, and on and on.
The result is that the Bay Area liberal looking down from his cupola has pulled up the stairway to his perch. He has essentially decreed that the impoverished will have very little livelihood in an overregulated state other than welfare and entry-level government jobs, and will live an apartheid existence in the Central Valley and L.A. basin, shut out from the coastal corridor where new housing is permanently on hold to any other than the top 2% of the state population.
We should not use the word “progressive” or “liberal,” given that on issues like abortion, affirmative action, the environment, illegal immigration, censorship, and a host of others, the left is reactionary to the core.
In the spirit of changing words to reflect reality, I suggest that we call today’s liberals “regressives” — fundamentalists who are wedded to self-serving deductive doctrines that cannot sustain empirical scrutiny and exist mostly as fossilized theologies of the 1960s.