“One cannot say of something that it is and that it is not in the same respect and at the same time.” -Aristotle’s Law of Noncontradiction
Last year I read The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream by Barack Obama.
Here’s my take on the man: I like him. I’d love to hang out with him casually and work with him professionally. I respect and admire his drive, his desire to make the world a better place.
Assuming he doesn’t use a ghostwriter, he’s a world-class writer (there is speculation to the contrary). He’s a piercing and holistic thinker, and a top-notch persuader. He is sincere, thoughtful, caring, and judicious.
Here’s my take on his politics: His conclusions and policies are inconsistent and contradictory.
There are many examples, but I want to focus on just one here.
In the chapter entitled Faith, Barack discusses his own religious views and delves into public policy regarding faith and religion. Interestingly, he and I largely agree in this area.
He details not only the glaring dangers, but also the simple realities of mixing religion and government. He writes:
“Jefferson and Leland’s formula for religious freedom worked. Not only has America avoided the sorts of religious strife that continue to plague the globe, but religious institutions have continued to thrive…Whatever we once were, we are no longer just a Christian nation; we are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, a Hindu nation, and a nation of nonbelievers.
“But let’s even assume that we only had Christians within our borders. Whose Christianity would we teach in the schools? James Dobson’s or Al Sharpton’s? Which passages of Scripture should guide our public policy? Should we go with Leviticus, which suggests that slavery is all right and eating shellfish is an abomination? How about Deuteronomy, which suggests stoning your child if he strays from the faith? Or should we just stick to the Sermon on the Mount — a passage so radical that it’s doubtful that our Defense Department would survive its application?”
His point, of course, is that using the force of government to institute, enforce, and/or promote religion is a bad idea.
Two pages later, he makes my point regarding his own politics by saying:
“In judging the persuasiveness of various moral claims, we should be on the lookout for inconsistency in how such claims are applied…we need to recognize that sometimes our argument is less about what is right than about who makes the final determination — whether we need the coercive arm of the state to enforce our values, or whether the subject is one best left to individual conscience and evolving norms.”
Unfortunately for those of us footing the bill to enforce his values, his own views are inconsistent. For one so concerned about not enforcing particular religious views through the government, he’s strangely eager to do that very thing in the economic realm.
He shudders at the thought of religion being imposed through government, while toiling to institute laws that forcefully take from some to give to others. He praises New Deal reforms and champions wealth redistribution.
His perspective is arrived at in the name of such lofty ideals as “helping” and “communal values” and “equal opportunity” — all of which, by the way, I share with him, but in a different context.
But when the decorative language is stripped naked, a cold gun of physical force is exposed.
To quote from Barack again:
“That is one of the things that makes me a Democrat, I suppose — this idea that our communal values, our sense of mutual responsibility and social solidarity, should express themselves not just in the church or the mosque or the synagogue; not just on the blocks where we live, in the places where we work, or within our own families; but also through the government.
“Like many conservatives, I believe in the power of culture to determine both individual success and social cohesion, and I believe we ignore cultural factors at our peril. But I also believe that our government can play a role in shaping that culture for the better — or for the worse.” [emphases added]
This euphemistic rhetoric ignores the hard realities of the nature of government. It sounds nice, but there’s a fundamental difference between churches, communities, businesses and families and the government.
The former institutions are based in voluntarism, while the latter is based in force.
Herein lies the blindspot of modern liberalism. As George Washington warned,
“Government is not reason, it is not eloquence, it is force; like fire, a troublesome servant and a fearful master.”
Barack’s first inconsistency, then, regards how the government should be used. According to Barack, government shouldn’t be used to force religious values, but it should be used to redistribute wealth.
But the second, more perplexing inconsistency, regards why Barack feels the government should be used this way. His reasoning behind his views on the relationship between religion and government rests on values.
Values are subjective, as the argument goes, so one group cannot rightfully impose their values on another.
And since religious morals are arguably a set of subjective values, the government should not be involved with religion.
Here’s where I’m stumped: How is wealth redistribution any different? How is democratic socialism not fundamentally based in values?
The fact is that wealth redistribution is based on subjective values every bit as much as is religion. The only way for Barack’s perspective to be consistent is if religion is value-ful and economics is value-less.
But it’s not true — economics carries within it values and mores, all of which are arguably subjective, just like religion.
You can’t state that the government should stay away from religion because it’s based on subjective values, while also holding that the government should redistribute wealth in the name of “communal values.”
Both courses equate to the exact same thing — one group of people imposing their subjective views and values upon others through the force of government.
This is the classic intellectual tyrant fallacy — thinking that your values are the right ones, the values that can rightfully be imposed upon society.
Barack is ultra-concerned with religious values being imposed upon himself and others, while simultaneously imposing his economic values upon us.
To clarify, I wholeheartedly support any and all charitable efforts when done through voluntary institutions. I’m not arguing against charity and “communal values” and “equal opportunity”; I’m arguing against illegitimate government force.
I agree 100 percent with Barack and all other liberals who believe that we should love and lift and serve. We agree that vast inequities in wealth distribution pose significant dangers to society.
We agree that individuals and institutions can and should do more to cure societal ills. We agree that wealth should not be used to exploit.
And frankly, I think that more conservatives should agree with these ideals than they seem to.
Our disagreements revolve around the role that the government should play in all of this. Government is force. It’s not a nice community hall where we all come together in the spirit of cooperation to help each other out — that’s the purview of family, community, religion, and business.
The blindspot of modern liberalism is thinking that government is a good place to solve all societal problems. The only problem that the government is qualified and has the natural right to solve is the violation of unalienable rights between individuals and groups.
Keep the government in its proper role of protecting unalienable rights, and use voluntary institutions to perform works of charity.