Politics, et Cetera
A publication from The Political Forum, LLC
Tuesday, April 19, 2016
They Said It:
[The socialists declare] that the state owes subsistence, well-being, and education to all its citizens; that it should be generous, charitable, involved in everything, devoted to everybody; that its mission is to feed the infants, instruct the young, assure employment to the able-bodied, provide pensions for the disabled; in a word, that it should intervene directly to relieve all suffering, satisfy and anticipate all wants, furnish capital to all enterprises, enlightenment to all minds, balm for all wounds, asylums for all the unfortunate, and even aid to the point of shedding French blood, for all oppressed people on the face of the earth.
Who would not like to see all these benefits flow forth upon the world from the law as from an inexhaustible source? . . . But is it possible? . . . Whence does [the state] draw those resources that it is urged to dispense by way of benefits to individuals? Is it not from the individuals themselves? How, then, can these resources be increased by passing through the hands of a parasitical and voracious intermediary? Is it not clear, on the contrary, that the whole apparatus of government is of such a nature as to absorb many useful resources and to reduce the share of the workers proportionately? Is it not also evident that the latter will thereby lose a part of their freedom, along with a part of their well-being?
Frederic Bastiat, “Justice and Fraternity,” 1848.
AMERICAN POLITICS 2016: SEX AS BREAD AND CIRCUSES.
As a general rule, we consider this to be a family publication, which means that you can (and should) let/make your wives, husbands, kids, grandkids, in-laws, out-laws, etc. read the darned thing – ESPECIALLY those who happen to be in college and who might, therefore, need a bracing dose of reality. Today’s edition, however, is not necessarily family friendly. Indeed, parts of it are downright indecent. Unfortunately, there’s a point to the indecency – as you’ll soon see – which makes it something of a necessary evil in any accurate depiction of the nation’s political scene today. Proceed with caution. Seriously.
One of the questions most asked by conservatives this election cycle is how the Democrats and their voters can be so historically ignorant. Everyone knows that “socialism” inevitably ends in disaster, even if you try to soften it up by calling it “democratic.” Sure, it’s been a full quarter century since the Soviet Union existed, and political memories are agonizingly short. But the Soviet disaster is not the only indictment of socialism. Heck, it’s not even the most recent. Everywhere socialism has been tried, the result has been the same: mountains of dead bodies, economic collapse, and massive corruption.
One need only look at Venezuela, formerly the American Left’s favorite Latin American “paradise,” to see that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Hugo Chavez and his “reform” movement certainly impressed a handful of Hollywood morons: Danny Glover, Sean Penn, and the eternally execrable Harry Belafonte, to name just a few. But as that nation’s socialist government begs women to quit using hair dryers so as not to exacerbate the current energy crisis – in the Western Hemisphere’s oil-richest nation – the breakdown of the Chavista utopia is as obvious as it was inevitable. Socialism kills. Period.
And yet, the Democratic presidential candidate with all of the momentum and the largest crowds and the greatest voter enthusiasm isn’t even a Democrat – or at least wasn’t until a few months ago, when he decided to run for president. He is, rather, a socialist – an avowed socialist. And in addition to pulling in the biggest and most passionate crowds on the Democratic side, he’s also pulling the frontrunner and presumed inevitable nominee to the far Left with him, forcing her to disavow all of the plans, programs, laws, and advancements made under the last Democratic president, a centrist who left office wildly popular and who also happens to be her husband. As the formerly-but-no-longer bankrupt Newsweek put it upon Barack Obama’s election: “We’re All Socialists Now” – or at least they are on the Democratic side.
How, one might reasonably ask, did we get here? How, a scant twenty-five years after the greatest peacetime political collapse in modern history, did we end up with a plurality, if not an outright majority, of American voters supporting socialism? And more to the point, what does it all mean going forward?
Obviously, these questions aren’t easy to answer. If they were, we wouldn’t be doing the answering. Someone smarter, wittier, and with a higher profile would be doing it. But they’re not, so here goes.
In order to try to explain how and why American voters are seriously flirting with socialism for the first time since FDR died, we will have to make a couple of historical detours, the first to Texas, just a few years ago; the second to revolutionary France; and the last to Cambridge, Massachusetts – natch! – in the early 1970s.
Before heading off to Texas, we’ll warn you: here’s where things get . . . well . . . yucky, or at least it’s where they get yucky if you read the Left-leaning media, some members of whom had quite a good time last week, wallowing in the muck. Fortunately, in the end, the entire episode – muck and all – says a great deal more about the Left than it does about the Left’s target. And that target was Republican presidential hopeful and Texas Senator Ted Cruz.
As it turns out, back in 2007, when Ted Cruz was the Solicitor General of the state of Texas, he * was involved in a case that has a certain bunch of lefties all a titter. The dimwits at the New York Daily News provide the details – or at least what they believed to be the details. Hold on to your lunch:
Further proof Ted Cruz is the ultimate buzz kill: That one time he tried to ban sex toys.
The GOP presidential second-runner once pored over an impassioned plea to cease sex toys in Texas — and his 76-page screed against self-pleasure resurfaced Wednesday thanks to an expose from Mother Jones.
As Texas’ solicitor general in 2007, Cruz filed a brief in the US Court of Appeals upholding a lower court’s decision to criminalize the sale of dildos and other sex toys — or “obscene devices,” as Cruz called them on paper. . .
Elsewhere in the whopping brief, Cruz argued sex toys show “no liberty interest relating to procreation,” and he defended the government’s right to discourage “autonomous sex.”
“There is no substantive-due-process right to stimulate one’s genitals for non-medical purposes unrelated to procreation or outside of an interpersonal relationship,” Cruz wrote.
The entire episode was good fun for (almost) everyone on the Left. They laughed. They giggled. They snickered at the silly prude. Cruz’s freshman roommate at Princeton, a bitter and overbearing screen-writer named Craig Mazin, made the lefties laugh even more, tweeting: “Ted Cruz thinks people don’t have a right to ‘stimulate their genitals.’ I was his college roommate. This would be a new belief of his.” A great time was had by (almost) all.
There were only two problems with the great and hilarious story. The first of these was that it was false, categorically, undeniably false. Almost every word of the story, as the fun-loving lefties told it, was just flat wrong.
For starters, Ted Cruz wasn’t some prude who “chose” to attack people who bought sex toys. He was the Solicitor General of Texas, which means that his job – his duty, in fact – was to defend the laws of the state, as directed by the Attorney General. And then-Texas Attorney General (and current Governor) Greg Abbott assigned the defense of the law to Cruz’s office. Note here that we wrote “Cruz’s office” purposefully. Cruz, you see, didn’t actually handle the case. It was assigned to and argued in front of the U.S. Court of Appeals by then-deputy Solicitor General Bill L. Davis (hence the asterisk above). Additionally, Cruz wasn’t trying to “ban” anything. The ban on the sales of sex toys had been enacted in the 1970s, when Cruz was a child and DEMOCRAT Dolph Brisco was the state’s governor. The law was challenged in court in 1985 – when Cruz was a freshman in high school and DEMOCRAT Mark White was the governor – and was upheld by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Indeed, the phrase that set the Left a-titter – “There is no substantive-due-process right to stimulate one’s genitals for non-medical purposes…” – was written by said Texas Court. It was repeated in the Solicitor General’s defense, because it was the legal precedent under which the state of Texas operated between 1985 and 2007. Ted Cruz didn’t ban anything. He didn’t argue anything in court. He didn’t write anything about people not having the right to do what they wanted in the privacy of their own homes. Or, to put it another way, he didn’t do any of the things of which the lefty hipsters accused him. Not one.
The bigger problem, for the Left at least, is that not everyone on its side thought this was pure fun. And even those who thought it was fun were nonetheless laughing a little nervously. Late last week, Curtis Sliwa of WABC news asked Cruz if he would promise that, as president, he wouldn’t ban sex toys. Cruz (rightly) answered that it was a ridiculous question and that he couldn’t care less what people do in the privacy of their homes. But even that wasn’t enough for some, like the ever-looney Amanda Marcotte at Salon, who worried that Cruz would not abide by his word and that he would “continue” to wage a “war on sex.” The sex-toy ban, Marcotte wrote, is “part and parcel of a long-standing war by the religious right, which Cruz is intimately tied up with, on policing private sexual choices.”
David Corn, the writer for the Mother Jones who started the whole story rolling, wrote that “the [sex-toy] case was actually an important battle concerning privacy and free-speech rights.” Any sensible person – which is to say people who don’t write for or read Mother Jones or Salon – can see from all of this that Corn was only half right and that Marcotte is, as always, completely insane. Yes, the sex-toy case mattered with respect to privacy, but it had nothing whatsoever to do with free speech. Corn said it did, of course, but only because he was repeating the ages-old leftist dogma that anything sexual is protected speech. The Left, you see, believes that the right to “free-speech,” is a one that should only be very selectively enforced. To the Left, the right to free speech doesn’t actually apply to people who wish to. . . well . . . speak freely. It doesn’t apply to people who challenge Islam. It doesn’t apply to people who hold “undesirable” opinions about immigration, or homosexuality, or same-sex marriage, or people using the public restrooms that correspond with the naughty bits with which they were born. Anyone who chooses to speak out against any of those things can and should be silenced, in the opinion of the Left. To people like Marcotte and Corn, those things – those words – aren’t protected. To the Left, free speech doesn’t apply to anything except sex – and sex-related activities, such as pornography or stripping or “art” or the sale of sex toys.
The reason for this is pretty simple. The Left doesn’t believe in any negative rights, except those having to do with sex. It’s not just the right to free speech that the Left measures only in terms of sex; it’s every other negative right as well. The Left doesn’t believe in the right to speech. It doesn’t believe in the free exercise of religion. It doesn’t believe in the right to bear arms. It doesn’t believe that there are rights reserved to the states or to the people. It specifically invented the right to privacy in order to advance sexual liberty – birth control, abortion, sex toys, you name it. We have written this before in these pages and we’re certain to write it again, but the contemporary Left simply doesn’t believe in liberty at all – except sexual liberty!
One may, of course, speculate as to the source of the Left’s preoccupation with sexual liberty and negative rights as they apply to sexual behavior. And we have, in fact, done so in other pieces. For our purposes today, though, it strikes us that the Left’s fixation is merely its acceptance of our constitutional order, its acknowledgment that the Constitution compels the nation’s lawmakers to deal specifically with negative rights and negative liberty.
Negative rights, as you may know, are those that are believed to be possessed by all men and women and which serve as defenses against the government. These rights enumerate the activities of which the state may NOT deprive its citizens. The government, for example, may not restrict the rights with which you have been endowed by your creator, among which are life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and property. Negative rights are the rights embodied by the American founding and enshrined in the Constitution. They serve to protect the citizens from the ever-encroaching state.
The statists, for their part, hate negative rights and despise the Founders for their explicitly “negative” vision of liberty. Barack Obama famously criticized the Constitution as “a charter of negative liberties. It says what the states can’t do to you. Says what the federal government can’t do to you but doesn’t say what the federal government or state government must do on your behalf.” He’s right. And it drives him and his fellow leftist nuts.
The leftists favor positive rights or positive liberties, the rights they believe all men are entitled to as wards of the state. All men have the “right” to guaranteed health care. They have a right to meaningful employment. They have a right to shelter and to food. Former Illinois Senator Carol Moseley Brown once said that “we” have a “fundamental right” to “freedom from insult.” The problem for the leftists is that they can’t justify their favored rights – i.e. positive rights – in terms of the Constitution, which is to say that they can’t guarantee them in perpetuity as “inalienable” rights. Positive rights in our system are unambiguously statutory rights, meaning that they carry only the force of law, not the imprimatur of nature, God, or “the Creator,” and thus they can and do change with political fortunes.
Given all of this, the Left has NO intrinsic appeal to freedom or liberty. Its agenda has no recourse to human rights as the Founders saw them two-plus centuries ago and as the American public still sees them today. The Left would rightfully be seen, therefore, as purely authoritarian, purely statist, bent exclusively on taking liberty from the people – except for matter of sexual behavior. Sex and the taboos surrounding it provide the Left with one right, one zone of liberty that it can embrace in constitutional terms and which it can employ to bolster its claim to support liberty, even as it undermines the traditional order. The metaphysical/ideological Left is not necessarily obsessed with sex – as many of the wannabe libertines among it ranks mistakenly believe. It merely appears obsessed since it can find no other negative/constitutional right to embrace.
As we have written before in these pages, the Left’s rejection of negative rights has its roots in the “values” of the French revolutionaries, i.e., liberté, égalité, fraternité, which are often cited as being analogous to the values of the American Revolution and thus to the values explicitly embraced by America’s Founding Fathers. But this is false.
The French values – particularly égalité – were derived from the works of the Swiss philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau, who advocated a state that forced equality on the people (for their own collective good) and rejected the notion that a “right” to property exists outside of the state. Or as Rousseau himself put it in his Discourse on Inequality:
The first man who, having enclosed a piece of ground, bethought himself of saying This is mine, and found people simple enough to believe him, was the real founder of civil society. From how many crimes, wars and murders, from how many horrors and misfortunes might not any one have saved mankind, by pulling up the stakes, or filling up the ditch, and crying to his fellows, “Beware of listening to this impostor; you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody.”
America’s founders, on the other hand, embraced the views of the philosopher John Locke, who argued in favor of a state dedicated principally to liberty (that is to say as much freedom as possible from the dictates of the state) and based on the right to property.
Needless to say, when the French Revolution progressed to the declaration of a Republic, the quest for égalité took a nasty turn. The newly established Rousseauian-based state began the process of making everyone “equal,” with predictable results. Maximilien Robespierre and his Orwellian-named Committee of Public Safety took on the task and, in the process, slaughtered some 18,000 to 40,000 of their countrymen.
When the killing began, Robespierre invoked Rousseau’s communitarian claim that no single individual had a right against the power of the entirety and that the state shall determine the peoples’ will. He put it this way: “The people is always worth more than individuals . . . The people is sublime, but individuals are weak . . . The people en mass cannot govern itself.” Robespierre’s famous/infamous speech that launched the Reign of Terror is a classic, not because of its duplicity, but because it set the standard for Leftist demagogues for centuries to come. To wit:
What is the goal toward which we are heading? The peaceful enjoyment of liberty and equality; the reign of that eternal justice whose laws have been inscribed, not in marble and stone, but in the hearts of all men, even in that of the slave who forgets them and in that of the tyrant who denies them.
We seek an order of things in which all the base and cruel passions are enchained, all the beneficent and generous passions are awakened by the laws; where ambition becomes the desire to merit glory and to serve our country; where distinctions are born only of equality itself; where the citizen is subject to the magistrate, the magistrate to the people, and the people to justice; where our country assures the well-being of each individual, and where each individual proudly enjoys our country’s prosperity and glory; where every soul grows greater through the continual flow of republican sentiments, and by the need of deserving the esteem of a great people; where the arts are the adornments of the liberty which ennobles them and commerce the source of public wealth rather than solely the monstrous opulence of a few families.
In our land we want to substitute morality for egotism, integrity for formal codes of honor, principles for customs, a sense of duty for one of mere propriety, the rule of reason for the tyranny of fashion, scorn of vice of scorn of the unlucky, self-respect for insolence, grandeur of soul over vanity, love of glory for the love of money, good people in place of good society. We wish to substitute merit for intrigue, genius for wit, truth for glamour, the charm of happiness for sensuous boredom, the greatness of man for the pettiness of the great, a people who are magnanimous, powerful, and happy, in place of a kindly, frivolous, and miserable people – which is to say all the virtues and all the miracles of the republic in place of all the vices and all the absurdities of the monarchy.
We want, in a word, to fulfill nature’s desires, accomplish the destiny of humanity, keep the promises of philosophy, absolve providence from the long reign of crime and tyranny.
Robespierre’s appeal to “morality” was, of course, absurd, given the nature of his undertaking. Moreover, there was no way that he and his fellow Jacobins could create a state that would provide people with positive rights and positive liberties. Yet, this Rousseauian communalist ideal would illuminate the leftist imagination from that point on. Among the many problems this would cause is that it would inevitably necessitate violence in an attempt to “convince” those who resist the notion of leveling. Isaiah Berlin put it this way: “Once I take this view, I am in a position to ignore the actual wishes of men or societies, to bully, oppress, torture in the name, and on behalf, of their ‘real’ selves, in the secure knowledge that whatever is the true goal of man … must be identical with his freedom.”
In a normal world, of course, the violent reality that inevitably accompanies the pursuit of positive rights would render such pursuits politically unacceptable, particularly in the Anglo-American tradition that has long favored the opposite view. The examples provided throughout history – from the French Revolution to the Russian Revolution; from the collapse of the Soviet experiment to the ongoing abasement of the people of Venezuela – would force any rational, thinking people to reject the notions of Rousseauian liberty and of positive rights. As we have written countless times, however, this is hardly a rational world, and American liberals today are hardly a rational, thinking people.
For many on the Left, the turning point in the battle for control of the hearts and minds of the people and the battle for the soul of liberty came in 1971, with the publication of John Rawl’s A Theory of Justice. Prior to the publication of this book, Rawls was largely unknown outside of the provincial world of moral philosophy; he was an average and modestly successful philosopher. Whatever that means. After his Theory, however, Rawls became a global superstar, one of the West’s most prominent voices on public morality. When he presented Rawls with the National Humanities Medal in 1999, Bill Clinton declared emphatically that the philosopher’s work had “helped a whole generation of learned Americans revive their faith in democracy itself.” And indeed, as much as anyone, Rawls has been the inspiration for the “learned” – which is to say the liberal Left – for the past nearly half-century.
Put simply, Rawls’ theory of justice is based on two principles, which he spells out as follows:
First Principle: Each person has the same indefeasible claim to a fully adequate scheme of equal basic liberties, which scheme is compatible with the same scheme of liberties for all;
Second Principle: Social and economic inequalities are to satisfy two conditions:
They are to be attached to offices and positions open to all under conditions of fair equality of opportunity;
They are to be to the greatest benefit of the least-advantaged members of society (the difference principle).
Here, Rawls’ “expanded” social contract blends both negative rights (the First Principle) and the supposition of positive rights (the Second Principle). The First Principle dictates the minimum liberty afforded to all members of society, while the Second stipulates that justice can only be achieved if all are provided the same opportunity, including the same economic opportunity. Hence, a “just” society demands economic redistribution.
Now, Rawls intended for these principles to be lexically arranged, which is to say that the first must be met before the second can be considered. In practice, however, since all basic liberties must be equally accessible to all, even the First Principle demands some measure of redistribution of wealth. Moreover, Rawls argues explicitly against a right to unlimited “private property,” which is to say that he believes that, even in a nominally capitalist society, wealth, resources, and access to opportunity must be fairly distributed. Arguing against what he calls “welfare-state capitalism” and in favor of a “property-owing democracy,” Rawls put it this way:
The background institutions of property-owning democracy work to disperse the ownership of wealth and capital, and thus to prevent a small part of society from controlling the economy and, indirectly, political life as well. By contrast, welfare-state capitalism permits a small class to have a near monopoly of the means of production.
Property-owning democracy avoids this, not by the redistribution of income to those with less at the end of each period, so to speak, but rather by ensuring the widespread ownership of assets and human capital (that is, education and trained skills) at the beginning of each period, all this against a background of fair equality of opportunity. The intent is not simply to assist those who lose out through accident or misfortune (although that must be done), but rather to put all citizens in a position to manage their own affairs on a footing of a suitable degree of social and economic equality.
In the current political atmosphere, where the economic focus is on “inequality” and the growing gulf between the 1% and the 99%, rather than on the need to expand the economy, Rawls fits in perfectly. For more than four decades now, American educators have accepted Rawls’ hypothetical or ideal “just” state as an achievable goal and have indoctrinated their charges with similar beliefs. And in the Democratic Party today, those who wish to pursue “justice” through redistribution of wealth have found their voice and a respected authority to whom they can appeal.
For the contemporary Left, Rawls squares the circle left by Rousseau. He concedes the necessity of basic negative rights, but emphasizes the moral requirement of positive rights as well. He provides the best of both worlds and thereby offers what the Left sees as a plausible political platform, limited acknowledgement of individual liberty coupled with a far less-limited demand for an economically “just” state.
In practice, of course, we have seen how this theory plays out. The Left appears to be obsessed with sex – and sex-related “rights” – because those are the only negative rights they find acceptable and which they can fit into their scheme requiring some a priori “basic” rights. The denizens of the Left wage a culture war on traditional sexual behavior and then shriek like frightened schoolchildren when the Right questions the probity of remaking sexual morality with such abandon. “Save us,” they cream, “from the horrible, fascist conservative prudes who wish to infringe on our God-given rights to tinkle wherever we choose!”
What this means for our political discourse is, unfortunately, more of the same. Democrats will expend their energy not describing the means by which they wish to achieve the just society they favor and which “secures” positive rights, but by denigrating Republicans for a “war on sex” or for a “war on women,” which in their conception is derived from sex (birth control, abortion, etc.). Hillary Clinton, the allegedly “saner” of the two Democratic candidates, has proposed positive rights in her presidency that will cost more than $1 trillion. She doesn’t explain how she will pay for these goodies. She doesn’t explain or even account for the consequences of taking $1 trillion out of the productive economy. She doesn’t explain how her new proposed entitlements will ensure a fairer distribution of the means of production. Instead, she attacks Republicans for their opposition to “women’s health.” Her surrogates and supporters attack Republicans as prudes and sexual killjoys intent on depriving the people of their right to sexual liberty. The Left wages war on bathrooms, on Republicans who support a traditional definition of marriage, on anyone who seeks to elevate any other, more traditional negative right above the fabricated right to perfect and unrestrained sexual “tolerance.” And thus will it be for the foreseeable future.
Last week, the more prurient corners of the political Left had a good laugh over the alleged sexual priggishness of the potential Republican nominee Ted Cruz. These laughs were not innocuous, though. They were calculated. They were intended to convey a specific message: Democrats care about your freedoms. We care about your liberty and your rights, even as we propose to remake society in our chosen image.
In his discussion of positive and negative rights and liberty, Isaiah Berlin noted that a focus on the positive side of the equation has had a tendency, over time, to promote authoritarianism. History proves this point emphatically. Thanks to John Rawls, the American Left thinks it has found a solution to this problem and that it can protect basic liberty even while promoting economic justice. Don’t bet on it. Expect instead that the sex talk will continue, an unfortunate but inevitable consequence of the Left’s present delusions.