Liberalism

Liberals Say Be Nice to Others—Or Else

But justice is not always kind.

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“Liberalism,” said Garrison Keillor in 2004, “is the politics of kindness.” The statement summed up the sentiment of countless other liberals, from Mario Cuomo to President Barack Obama (kindness is “what binds us together”).

Statements like these are meant to distinguish liberalism from non-liberalism, which isâ€"according to liberals such Paul Krugmanâ€"“infected by an almost pathological mean-spiritedness.” Unlike conservatives and libertarians, Berkeley linguist George Lakoff has written, “progressives care about others as well as themselves.”

Krugman and Lakoff fail the ideological Turing test, which gauges whether someone criticizing another political perspective understands it well enough to represent it accurately. If you can’t even summarize your opponent’s viewpoint correctly, then when you argue against it you are actually arguing against something else: a straw man. Conservatives and libertarians certainly want to see others flourish and lead happy, productive lives. They simply think liberals have sketched a flawed path to that goal.

In a new book due out next month, William Voegeli strives to trace that path and thereby better understand the liberal philosophy of compassion. But Voegeli, the senior editor of the Claremont Review of Books, strives to understand it in order to critique itâ€"which is evident from his tongue-in-cheek title: The Pity Party: A Mean-Spirited Diatribe Against Liberal Compassion.

Progressives have a problem, he argues in the early pages. Civic institutions having been divorced from religion a couple of centuries ago, liberals find it difficult to offer a good account of why an individual virtue should become a nationally governing principle. Secular liberalism, he says, “proclaims the brotherhood of man while rejecting the fatherhood of God.” Consequently, liberals extol compassion as an end in itself, a trump card that defeats all other arguments without needing any supporting arguments of its own.

But this raises as many questions as it answers. For example: Liberal policies designed to help some people will often harm others. Yet “practitioners of the politics of kindness lose little sleep over those whose suffering is the collateral damage of liberal policies, such as whites denied educational or career opportunities because of affirmative action programs.” A tax levied to help the poor grows burdensome on those who pay it, and so on. Compassion, then, necessarily becomes selective rather than universal. But selective compassion carries a lot less moral weight than the universal kind.

The political philosophy of kindness is highly selective in another sense as well: It is focused almost entirely on rendering aid to the American poor and lower middle classesâ€"which are, in the global context, still extraordinarily well-off. Voegeli notes that in the Congo, 77 million people endure life with a per capita GDP of just $400 per year. Yet American liberalism pays almost no attention to their suffering, preferring instead to focus almost exclusively on further improving the lot of Americans who already have clean clothes, decent housing, running water, abundant food, and luxuries like microwaves and cellphones that the Congolese can only dream of. Why?

We also should ponder (though Voegeli doesn’t) why so many liberals seem so eager to impose compassion through coercion. The welfare state relies on confiscatory taxation, which is backed up by the threat of violence. No matter how much private good you do, American liberals insist you first do good as they define it, and do it their wayâ€"or else.

Voegeli also asks at length why progressives who profess to care deeply about the welfare of others often seem so indifferent to whether welfare programs actually work as intended. If the goal is to help the suffering, then liberals should be more outraged than anyone else when a government program that spends billions on that objective fails to deliver. Instead, it is conservatives and libertarians who raise the alarms. This, Voegeli says, reveals liberal self-regard: Those who preach about compassion do so “less because they care about helping than because they care about caring.” They preach compassion not to render aid so much as to feel virtuous.

Progressives probably would retort that the conservatives and libertarians are crying crocodile tears: They raise alarms about the failure of Program X not because they want Program X to succeed, but because they want it to go away altogether. So any liberal who raises concerns about Program X’s efficacy is not helping the cause of compassion, but undermining it by giving ammunition to its enemies.

To this conservatives and libertarians might respond that, if (say) local charities could deliver certain services more effectively and at a lower cost, then nongovernmental, hence noncoercive, institutions should do more of the work of social kindness. Even simple cash transfers, such as a negative income tax, might be better since (as Voegeli writes) when government “gives people money, people receive the money it gives them. But when it gives them Head Starts or Model Cities,” the frequent failure of programs to work as intended means “they often wind up with something less than a head start or a model city.”

The liberal rebuttal to that might echo the words of The New Republic’s Leon Wieseltier, whom Voegeli quotes: Charity itself “is not economic justice”; rather, “the absence of economic justice … makes charity necessary.”

This, however, suggests that charityâ€"or kindness, or compassion, or some similar synonymâ€"is not really the bedrock upon which liberal political philosophy stands after all. Compassion in this case is simply a bandage, while the true bedrock of American liberalism is justice. But justice, as everyone knows, can often seem the furthest thing from kind.

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  1. Enabling is cruelty not kindness.

  2. Liberalism is the politics of intention. Liberalism is the politics of appearance. Liberalism is to kindness what boxed wine is to class.

    1. Fun Fact: The French drink box wine more than bottled. French wine is exported in bottles because idiot thing bottled is better, when in fact, it is not.

      Source: a friend in the fine wine business

      1. I always buy boxed wine (and canned beer). The bottle is just extra weight that has to be shipped, and these days you can buy high quality wine in boxes.

        1. I don’t think anyone thinks it’s better because it’s in a bottle; it’s just that, for years, wine in the box was generally cheap stuff. You could also get cheap wine in a bottle. But relatively good wine was only sold in bottles.

          Also, there are so many wines out there, and a relatively small portion is sold in boxes. At the (enormous) wine store in my city, there is basically a large supermarket with every isle filled with literally hundreds of different wines. The boxed wine section only covers one half of the back wall.

          1. That leads to the question, why? If it’s cheaper to put in a bladder that doesn’t fill with air as it’s drained, and hence keeps the contents fresher, why do so few package it that way? Is it really cheaper than bottling? Same Q for other beverages.

            1. For that matter, why did shampoo in a tube fall out of favor?

    2. Liberals are not doing anything for anyone else they are doing it for themselves. They have a pathological need to feel morally superior to others and this need becomes the central identity of their lives.
      This is why it is not important if the policies they enspouse are effective or useful or that they hurt as many people as they help. It is only important that they FEEL GOOD ABOUT THEMSELVES!

      So in fact, they are narcissistic mentally ill people who have a need to control other people (because often their own lives are out of control).

      1. A book titled “Boomeritis” by Ken Wilber explains the liberal thought process better than any other explanation I have ever heard or read. I encourage everyone to read it to the end.

        It isn’t an easy read but fortunately has a sex scene in every chapter. It is such a laborious read that that scene is the only thing that will entice you to keep reading it.

        The final chapter brings everything into a clear picture and you will be glad that you invested the time.

    3. “Liberalism is the politics of intention.”

      So true. It seems that in the mind of a liberal, everything can be solved by studying issues, having conferences and making declarations.

  3. “There is no virtue in compulsory government charity, and there is no virtue in advocating it. A politician who portrays himself as “caring” and “sensitive” because he wants to expand the government’s charitable programs is merely saying that he’s willing to try to do good with other people’s money. Well, who isn’t? And a voter who takes pride in supporting such programs is telling us that he’ll do good with his own money — if a gun is held to his head.”

    ? PJ O’Rourke

    1. Where is NYC liberal?

      I the nk hes a sock, as he is too much a cliche.

      1. he/it seemed to be trying to ‘out’ itself in the homeschool thread as such

        at first the “my kids go to styvie” line was amusing, but then the “God forbid i had been born in Haiti…..or Newark” seemed an attempt to project racist hypocrisy.

        possible Bo spin-off

        1. Idk, he’s quite racist and elitist. Murican on his meds? Possibly.

          1. I belong to the Everyone is Tulpa party, which requires me to assume that everyone is a tulpasock until proven otherwise. It can take years to actually filter out the real people from the handle-monkeys.

            1. Muahahaha, you caught me!

              /Tulpasock number 55476

  4. Justice is an absence of injustice, with injustice meaning your life, liberty or property is being affected by force or fraud.

    Leftist like to use force and fraud against your life, liberty and property.

    Thus economic justice and social justice are institutionalized injustice.

    1. You don’t support lavish social programs, ergo you want to see the poor dying in the street.

      You don’t support boundless, unaccountable regulation, ergo you advocate corporatism and environmental degradation.

      You don’t support the president when he unilaterally commits forces to an undeclared war, ergo you support tin-horn dictators.

      These people are entirely the triumph of form over function.

      1. You don’t support the president when he unilaterally commits forces to an undeclared war, ergo you support tin-horn dictators.

        That’s more of a bipartisan complaint.

        1. True. Progressivism is a bipartisan problem. Both parties/teams are lousy with it

    2. socialists twist the meanings of everything to mean what they want

      freedom is slavery; inequality is equality; etc……

  5. Secular liberalism, he says, “proclaims the brotherhood of man while rejecting the fatherhood of God.”

    This is nothing new. Proggies and little red Marxians have pretended to re-establish Paradise on Earth since the 19th Century, by turning Man into a Virtuous creature by force of arms [by the power of the State.]

  6. Why it’s kindness to force you to buy insurance, and pay a penalty if you don’t. It’s kindness to use the IRS to attack you if you don’t follow the ‘correct’ political ideology. It’s kindness you have your property taken, your life threatened, and thrown into prison if you don’t pay up or follow the beautiful laws they have given us.

    1. The success of liberlaism in the political arena is that it always has two groups of people backing it: Those who get warm and fuzzy by having a government which “helps” people so they don’t have to and the people who think they’re better off with all the free handouts the government gives them. In both cases, it’s a philosphy of laziness.

      1. The third group are people in it for the power and prestige. For them it’s not laziness, but a means to an end.

  7. Voegeli also asks at length why progressives who profess to care deeply about the welfare of others often seem so indifferent to whether welfare programs actually work as intended.

    Being overly concerned with results is RACIST!

    The New Republic‘s Leon Wieseltier [wrote that] Charity itself “is not economic justice”; rather, “the absence of economic justice … makes charity necessary.”

    ‘And once we achieve social justice, we can finally stop pretending we like any of that mangy rabble!”

  8. Ruthlessness is the kindness of the wise.

    1. selfishness is a virtue – to care for ones own self interest is the primary virtue in life, the secondary is not to be a burden on anyone else. The third is to be an asset to the people that you know and love.

      Being a host to a bunch of parasites that you do not know and don’t care about you is NOT A VIRTUE.

  9. Taking money from by the the force of law and giving it to somebody else isn’t exactly being kind to me, is it?

    1. Clearly you are a counter-revolutionary wrecker! To the gulag with you for reprogramming.

      As a kindness all of your ill gotten wealth will be liberated, so that it will no longer cloud your mind and divert you from proper thinking.

      You will thank us later (or else).

    2. no it is theft by use of governmental force.

  10. Liberalism is what real evil looks like. Beyond a few psychotics, no one sets out to make the world a worse place or do harm. The genius of evil is that it somehow convinces people that doing something horrifically bad is really good. That is what leftism is and why it never dies. Leftism plays on people’s weaknesses and good intentions and convinces them to do intuitively appealing but evil things. Worse still, it appeals to their vanity. Who doesn’t want to think they can change the world and make it a better place? Who doesn’t want to feel the power and self satisfaction that comes with making a difference and helping others?

    Everyone should read the Screwtape Letters sometime. It puts the issue in super natural terms, but it perfectly explains why evil is nearly always done by people with the best of intentions.

    1. See, progressives learned very quickly that people think and interact on the same level of simplicity as the start of the conversation. If a progressive starts a conversation at the superficial level of “I give charity and it’s a good thing, therefore everybody giving charity is a better thing,” the public discourse is hemmed in. Playing off of the ramifications of the clich? “the devil is in the details,” progressives must reside in the world of simplistic intentions, rather than the dirty and morally ambiguous level of implementation details .

      1. Yes. It is about intentions and generalities. It has to be. If it was about the details people would quickly realize their policies are evil.

        One of the cliches that I have grown to loath over the years is “stay out of the weeds”. It is meant as a lesson to managers and planners not to micro manage and think about higher level things. In reality it just becomes an excuse for people in charge to ignore facts they don’t like. You can’t stay out of the weeds. The weeds is all their is. Life is the details. Staying out of the details is just a rationalization for pulling things out of your ass and not doing the hard work necessary for a project to succeed.

        1. I always thought being “in the weeds” meant being overwhelmed.

          1. Yes it does. It means being overwhelmed by the details. And the reason the phrase is used is to tell people don’t get into the details and be overwhelmed by them. That sounds nice but you can fall the other way too and be so out of the details that you no longer are dealing with reality.

            1. Maybe from your perspective. In my experience the phrase has been used in restaurant settings, and it means when a cook or waiter is so overwhelmed that they spin their wheels and/or freeze up. The solution is to prioritize and start getting things done, not to ignore the details.

              1. IN some circumstances like the one you describe, the advice makes sense. The problem is not the cliche itself. It is how it has come to be used. And it is mostly used now as a way to rationalize planners and managers doing what they want with no regard to how it will actually work or fail to work in practice.

                1. Ah yes. Leave the strategy to the adults and let the little people worry about the tactics. If it doesn’t work then it’s obviously their fault.

          2. “in the weeds” means too detailed in the current context.

        2. John,, you’re running on all cylinders today. The perfect example of not being able to stay out of the weeds was posted in that WaPo article about no backdoor in new phones. They instead wanted a “secure golden key” for the police to use.

          That sounds great from a 10,000 foot view, but anybody with any knowledge of the details realizes that they just said “I don’t want to eat bull testicles, so I’ll take the rocky Mountain oysters, please”

        3. I hate that saying, too. I work in operational risk, and hear that when I’m assessing processes. The risk often lies in the minute details.

        4. Well said

          Top down planning is essential BUT, as you plan down and reach a problem you have to work back up, resolve it at the appropriate level, and then continue again.

          You can’t fix a flawed “big picture” plan with magic in “the weeds”.

    2. Liberalism is what real evil looks like. Beyond a few psychotics, no one sets out to make the world a worse place or do harm. The genius of evil is that it somehow convinces people that doing something horrifically bad is really good. That is what leftism is and why it never dies… etc

      I am not disagreeing with you, in fact I think you have written an excellent (partial) explanation of the phenomenon.
      I just want to point out that the summation might be “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

  11. Yes,kindness from the barrel of a gun,that only the state should have

    1. It is. But it doesn’t start out that way. It starts out with the best of intentions and with the most noble of goals.

      At heart Leftism is a ideology of conceit; the conceit that human beings know enough to create paradise on earth. Once you think you know enough and are wise enough to order the world for the greater good, it is a quick step to reach for the gun. Why wouldn’t you? Extreme measures are justified sometimes if the results they produce are great enough.

      The infamous communist historian Eric Hobsbawbn famously said in the 1990s that the hundreds of millions of deaths caused by communism would have been worth it had communism worked. And in a sense he is right. Of course to believe that you have to have the conceit to think that it is possible to achieve and end so wonderful that it is worth murdering millions. And it is that conceit that lies at the heart of leftism.

      1. At heart Leftism is a ideology of conceit; the conceit that human beings know enough to create paradise on earth. Once you think you know enough and are wise enough to order the world for the greater good, it is a quick step to reach for the gun. Why wouldn’t you? Extreme measures are justified sometimes if the results they produce are great enough.

        There was a quote from the comments of the global warming article on the mourning Lynx that I posted that illustrates your point perfectly.

        If I had to conceal, manipulate, or exaggerate to save the world?.I would do it in a second and never look back. These scientist are fighting a well funded coalition of special interests and chances are they are losing heart.

        1. (to be clear, I posted the quote, not the article)

        2. Note the slight of hand going on there. The statement says something that sounds reasonable. Everyone knows that sometimes you have to do things you normally wouldn’t because circumstances demand it. What is left unsaid is the assumption that the speaker can both save the world and knows that his lying will do it.

          1. His point reads as innocently as saying “sometimes you have to lie to do the right thing”

            What another commenter brings up is that his lies threaten to waste trillions of dollars and force billions into destitute poverty. That point ties in well with your above “in the weeds” thread.

  12. “Liberalism,” said Garrison Keillor in 2004, “is the politics of kindness.”

    Cool… what’s progressivism?

    1. Progressives are all above average in caring. Libertarians are always below average.

    2. The politics of FYTW.

    3. A vile political pre-cancerous version of Fascism.

  13. We must be cruel only to be kind

    garrisonkeillorisfullofit.com

  14. Testing the validity of claimed intent by examining actual effects is racist.

  15. “Civic institutions having been divorced from religion a couple of centuries ago,”

    Nope. Theism is not necessarily religious (see: Deists, apatheists), and religion is not necessarily theistic. Most civic institutions are in the grip of one religion or another.

    At any rate, the accusations he tosses at progs could have easily been tossed at the religious when they had power. Hypocrisy and public displays self-righteousness are not the sole province of any religion: animist, ancestor-worshipping, theist, or statist.

    1. Most civic institutions are in the grip of one religion or another.

      See every judicial jurisdiction in America and the church of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

  16. Voegeli also asks at length why progressives who profess to care deeply about the welfare of others often seem so indifferent to whether welfare programs actually work as intended. If the goal is to help the suffering,

    The answer to that one is easy. It’s the political equivalent of a Save The Whales bumper sticker. You don’t actually have to Save the Whales to feel good about saying that you are for Saving the Whales. Its a way to take moral credit without having to lift a finger.

    Same reason that they see taxation as charity. One is gonna be taxed anyway might as well claim some bogus moral gold star for paying them or being for paying more…even as they take every deduction offered.

  17. Today’s liberalism is moral preening as signaling. Instead of actually lifting a finger to help someone directly, they simply vote Dem and then tell others how much they care. Anyone who disagrees with them is inferior and heartless.

    It’s actually kind of humorous, since they spent so much time in the past painting conservatives as moral scolds.

    1. Re: RG,

      Today’s liberalism is moral preening as signaling. Instead of actually lifting a finger to help someone directly, they simply vote Dem and then tell others how much they care.

      Or load the back of their Prius cars with bumper stickers purporting to show their virtuousity through witty remarks and proclamations over colored vinyl and sticky glue. Because they care, you see.

  18. The liberal rebuttal to that might echo the words of The New Republic’s Leon Wieseltier, whom Voegeli quotes: Charity itself “is not economic justice”; rather, “the absence of economic justice … makes charity necessary.”

    That quote from Wieselter does real violence to the word ‘justice.’ Once upon a time, justice had a real, concrete definition. Then along came the civil rights movement and they created the concept of “social justice” which initially at least had some coherent meaning as regards attempts to exclude African-Americans from full participation in the economy and civic institutions. Now, it’s just a leftist shibboleth that means “whatever I don’t like.”

    Weiselter’s quote is basically a non-sequitur. It’s like saying the answer to a car accident is to buy a bicycle. Uh, no. The answer to a lack of justice, economic or otherwise isn’t charity, it’s, you know…justice. Weiselter has to make an absurd claim like that because no one can agree on what “economic justice” really is or would look like because it’s simply not a coherent concept.

    1. Weistelter also deprives the poor person of any human agency. Something is a “justice” issue because it happens due to no fault of my own and due to someone else’s negligence or malfeasance. If I choose to eat to much and get fat, that is not a justice issue it is a personal issue. I choose to do it. If someone knocks me in the head and robs me, that is a justice issue. I was harmed by someone else and had no control over them choosing to do it.

      When someone like Wieselter says economics is a “justice issue” they are saying poor people are poor and both having no control over being that way and are there because of the misconduct of others. To Wieselter poor people are not really human beings but some form of lesser animal unable to control their own fate.

      1. I often say that the difference between a poor person and a rich person is that the poor person spends their entire paycheck, while the rich person does not. Even if their paychecks are the same, the poor person will remain poor while the rich person will not.

        And I’ve taken quite a bit of heat for it.

        Because by saying that I am saying that the poor person is poor by choice. It is their choice to spend all their money.

        And as we all know, there’s little the left abhors more than personal responsibility. There is always someone or something else to blame.

        1. That is absolutly right. Money is not the problem. It is the decisions the person is making that is the problem. I always point to professional athletes who come from poverty, make millions and end up back in poverty. Making them all of that money didn’t do them a damn bit of good beyond giving them a few years of good times. That is because they never really left poverty. They sill had the same problems they had before. The money just alleviated the effects for a while. It didn’t solve the problem and no amount of money would.

        2. It’s a really inconvenient truth that people generally become poor or rich based on their expenses, not their income. There are people making 6 figures who can’t figure out for the life of them why they live paycheck to paycheck. There are also people who make $40k a year who have no debt, and are building financial security by the minute.

          1. When I worked at McDonalds in high school there was this mildly retarded guy named Willy who at the time was in the Guinness Book of World Records for flipping the most burgers. He’d been there for years. He rode his to work bike, lived in a modest apartment, didn’t have cable or anything like that, didn’t drink or use drugs, and he was rich, as in millionaire. Because he kept his expenses low and invested the rest.

            1. *rode his bike to work*

              1. At first I thought his one extravagance was to have two bikes.

    2. I dunno. I think economic justice and social justice are pretty clear in their meanings. They mean equality in outcome. Egalitarianism. From each according to ability, to each according to need. It’s the same collectivist crap that has been destroying civilizations since humans settled down and stopped being hunter-gatherers.

  19. “Economic justice” is just shorthand for forcible redistribution of wealth.

  20. I really wish people would stop calling the current crop of leftists “liberals”. They are nothing that resembles the liberals that founded the country and wrote the constitution. They are simple minded redistributionists.

    1. Sometimes I slip but I try to call them Proggies or little red Marxians which are humorous terms that better depict them.

      1. I usually call d’s asshats and r’s asshats with bibles.

  21. But justice, as everyone knows, can often seem the furthest thing from kind.

    Liberals would half the baby in the name of equiality.

    Or get mad at us for pointing out the obvious problem with that to them.

  22. “Yet American liberalism pays almost no attention to their suffering, preferring instead to focus almost exclusively on further improving the lot of Americans who already have clean clothes, decent housing, running water, abundant food, and luxuries like microwaves and cellphones that the Congolese can only dream of. Why?”

    Because Congolese can’t vote for Democrats and free stuff in American elections. Yet, anyway.

  23. Liberals care so much they support Obama’s drone strikes against Pakistani civilians.

  24. yet another anti-liberal propaganda blog post. I did not know Libertarian = Republican. But i guess this site is just another version of Breitbart/Drudge/Faux News

    1. Hahahahaha

      Cute.

    2. jimmy – If you think TEAM red is getting a pass, it means you are:
      1. not paying attention
      2. to dumb to learn how to read
      3. such a TEAM blue sycophant that any attack on your social justice agenda generates the retard faux news etc. response BTW – you left out the Koch Brothers

  25. There is a misconception that that needs to be fixed- compassion is not a feeling or emotion. It means “to suffer with”, often misunderstood as “sharing in suffering”. No one can emotionally share anyone else’s suffering. That is as fatuous as Bill Clinton’s “I feel your pain.” It is an ACT, nothing less. It is sharing your food with a starving person, though you go hungry yourself. It is only possible on a personal basis. Holding a gun to someone else’s head, taking their money, and giving it to someone else based on a superficial idea about need, then feeling righteous about it, is the utter opposite of compassion.

  26. “So any liberal who raises concerns about Program X’s efficacy is not helping the cause of compassion, but undermining it by giving ammunition to its enemies.”

    To which, i would say, “So the liberal isn’t really concerned so much about helping the poor as they are defeating his enemies?”

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