The New Regressives


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.