America is fighting a culture war and the Progressive Left is the aggressor. The latest front was opened on June 21 when the House of Representatives passed the so-called “Equality Act,” which would allow boys who self-identify as girls to compete in school sports as girls. Conservatives point to the Democrats’ embrace of transgender ideology as further evidence the party has gone off the rails, but typically left unexplained is how and why Leftists get to the positions they hold. Here is an attempt to do that. It has three parts.
We start from the position that Leftists maintain that citizens cannot truly pursue happiness or realize their individual potentialities unless they are free to will whatever they want to do. In philosophy the fancy term for this is “voluntarism,” which connotes a theory or a general outlook that gives prominence to the will in opposition to our intellect. The will is that part of our psychology that consists in making choices and in selecting one object among various particulars. Obviously, the will and the intellect work together in making choices, but a disorder arises deep in the soul whenever the operation of the will is given free rein over our intellect,tual powers. We see this in instances when reason is put in a secondary role, used not to inquire into the truth of things, but rather to conjure up justifications that allow us to do whatever the will desires.
The will always wants what it perceives to be good, but the problem is that the criteria for judging what is good and what is bad does not reside within the will itself. It is found in what is. It is found in the natural order of things. An alcoholic may view his next drink as something good, but in reality it is something destructive of his being. This is rather self-evident, but in the Leftist Outlook, the will has been inflated to such an extent that the Leftist denies there is a natural order of things. Rather it affirms that any order of any significance is a product of social construction. The Left refuses to recognize what is and substitutes what I want in its place. Man makes his own reality.
The next step in our analysis has to do with the role of the state. Leftists see state as a kind of a creative power, a friendly mediator whose job is to intercede in the life of society to enable people to fully develop their potentialities. Thus, a Leftist would say it is the proper function of the state to remove obstacles that frustrate any citizen’s striving to pursue happiness as he or she sees fit. A summary of this view can be found in the opinion written by former Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy in Planned Parenthood v Casey, the Court’s 1992 decision that upheld abortion “rights.”
’”At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life. Beliefs about these matters could not define the attributes of personhood were they formed under compulsion of the State.”
That piece of folderol was mocked by the late Justice Antonin Scalia who called it the “sweet mystery-of-life passage” that “ate the rule of law.” But it does bring into focus our first two aspects of the Leftist Outlook — the idea that liberty entails allowing the citizen “to define one’s own concept of existence” — whatever that means — and the idea that the state ought not interfere with that process. In transgender ideology this worldview means there is no objective “human nature” apart from any individual’s definition of who he or she is. It further means that if any person identifies as transgender it is not up to society or the state to question that decision; rather both are expected to help such persons make the transition to their new identity.
Finally, if the state is to nurture and advance a radical understanding of personal autonomy, the ground of law then becomes based on the shifting desires and movements of the human will alone. This is an unstable situation, because with no fixed Polaris to guide human action, a law tomorrow can be the opposite of what it is today. An advocate of abortion “rights” or of “same-sex marriage” should have little difficulty in agreeing with that statement because public policy on these issues today is the opposite of what it was in the not distant past. Thus, the only way the Leftist project can secure its purported advances and protect itself from counter-attack must be with a constant show of hands and a flexing of muscle.
Today the rigid orthodoxy of Progressive Leftism prevails in the land. It is a noxious compound of several related tendencies and opinions, including the application of radical doubt about the nature of reality, the widespread acceptance of moral relativism, and the imposition of political correctness. The Left emphasizes will over reason and ends over means. It scorns tradition and mocks the good. It stifles and bullies and silences unfashionable ideas. Its internal logic is to expand into every aspect of social life, for to come to rest would be the start of its undoing. The Leftist Outlook expands either subtly, by co-opting individual and institution alike, or aggressively, by denouncing or ridiculing any idea that does not conform to itself.
This behavioral pattern is not elective. It is not idiosyncratic to any particular person on the Left or any allied group. It is foreordained and necessary. That is because if you start your politics from the primacy of the will over reason, then you inevitably wind up with no grounding for ethics or law apart from raw power itself.
Graphic credit: Govenment of Singapore
James Soriano is a retired Foreign Service Officer. He has previously written for AT on monetary affairs and the Federal Reserve Bank.