Thursday, December 02, 2004

The Liberal Game in Action

Jimmy Akin recently posted his analysis of an article by Harvard Law professor William Stuntz musing about the possibility of reconciling blue-state philosophy and red-state philosophy into a kind of purple-state philosophy. Stuntz writes from the perspective of an Evangelical Christian who teaches at a liberal New England school, which ought to give him some insight into the matter. Alas, it seems that he has still missed a great deal, and I would argue that it is because he doesn't understand the "liberal game" (described in the first paragraph of this entry) that permeates blue-state philosophy.

First off, I entirely agree with Jimmy's "It's abortion, stupid!" analysis. Even the most basic survey of legal history recognizes that there are issues that are so central to the basic dignity of human beings that they entirely dominate the political consciousness of large groups of people. Slavery was one, and so is abortion. So how does Stuntz miss this? Simple. He's bought into the notion of "polarizing issues" as being inherently bad things that are "too emotional" for rational discussion. In other words, he's started playing the liberal game.

There is some real irony here relating to my own personal experience, because Harvard is the place where I learned the rules of the liberal game (i.e., defining one's own view as "tolerant" and putting opposing views outside of the scope of "reasonable discussion" with pejorative terms like "intolerance," "bias," "emotional," "pure opinion," etc.). As I became better versed in ideas like "legal realism" and "neutral principles," I began to realize that religion was being viewed as something personal and irrational, like one's preference in music or food, unrelated to objective reality. As someone who had always considered theism to be a quite rational position, I was deeply offended by this notion (I even wrote a paper about how Stephen Jay Gould's attempt to put science and religion in separate "magisteria" in Rocks of Ages was an insult to both endeavors). In fact, it was the desire to fight against the concept of theism as pure subjectivity that led me to seek a more developed concept of my own faith and, ultimately, to return to the Church of my baptism.

By not recognizing the rhetorical modes of the blue-state philosophy, Prof. Stuntz naively comes to the conclusion that Christians have shut themselves out! Prof. Stuntz has a valid point about the anti-intellectual sentiment that permeates fundamentalism, which he uses as evidence to justify his position that Christians are simply unwilling to enter the academic fray of "tough-minded questions and arguments," but he seems to be completely oblivious to the vast number of thinking Christians who have had their philosophies defined out of the realm of reasonable debate. Contrary to his caricature, we would *love* to test our beliefs with "tough-minded questions and arguments" and to have them battle in the marketplace of ideas. It is the so-called "tolerant liberals" who are determined to protect people's ideas from "intolerance" to the point of excluding all religious discussion from societal debate, which is really nothing more than anti-Christian prejudice. And what's worse, people have bought into this tactic so thoroughly that we are now fighting to avoid having our ideas eradicated from society entirely in the name of tolerance.

Stuntz does demonstrate some awareness of this problem when he discusses the lack of humility among academics, and their willingness to "talk and act as though those ideas are not just right but obviously right -- only a fool or a bigot could think otherwise." But again, he just doesn't seem to get that it is an essential component of the liberal game to call people "fools" and "bigots" in order to make one's own view appear more "reasonable." The faux tolerance of liberalism is simply a rhetorical tactic to win points, and the only way to win this game is to refuse to play it. I sympathize with Prof. Stuntz in thinking that discussion is possible, but not while the liberal game is being used to exclude one of the parties. It's not simply a matter of the liberals learning to be humble; humility about whether one is right or wrong can lead someone into the false ideal of tolerance just as easily as it can lead to mutual respect and irenic discussion. The only way to cure it is to recognize that defining the parameters of reasonability to exclude reasonable people cuts off even the possibility of dialogue.

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