The orthosphere – or as Bruce Charlton first proposed we call it, the kalbosphere – continues its penetration of the Christian Right. The lead article in the most recent edition of First Things is by Orthospherean Jim Kalb, his second appearance in that journal this year.
Technocracy Now is another of Jim’s incisive analyses of liberalism. An excerpt:
As a number of thinkers have recognized, something is missing from this technocratic project. It has no interest in ultimate goods, but only in the realization of whatever goods are chosen by the people or their paternalistic betters. In the liberal form of technocracy, individual satisfaction is the presumptive standard for action. But public and private interests sometimes differ, so the social order cannot endure without some acceptance of sacrifice for the common good. This sacrifice in turn requires the recognition of goods that transcend the desires of individuals. Indeed, even in the best of times we are not satisfied by the satisfaction of our desires simply as such. We want to know that our desires are justified, our satisfactions worth having. We need to live in accordance with some ideal, and to see ourselves as participants in a higher order of things.
This need is essentially a religious one. The liberal form of technocracy has addressed it by making the rejection of higher goods itself a higher good – calling it liberation, autonomy, or choice – and declaring it essential to human dignity. Liberal technocracy encourages us to imagine ourselves each a little deity whose wishes are commands that define moral reality. This religious view – which is rarely explicit – commits the technocracy to a spiritual-moral project, namely, the social recognition of the equal divinity of everyone. This project explains the moral passion behind causes such as inclusiveness and multiculturalism, as well as the seeming hyperbole in Nancy Pelosi’s assertion that the right to late-term abortion is “sacred ground.”
This way of thinking has a broad appeal. It enables liberal elites to claim that their power is not power at all; instead, it is a disinterested defense of the power of every human being. Increasingly, the people who run businesses and bureaucracies do not wield power, or so they say; they empower. And it allows fellow travelers in the liberation project to justify their private choices, to feel powerful by identifying with power, and to alleviate the boredom of their politically correct consumer society with the pastimes of moral preening and the smoking out and punishment of dissidents.
But a problem remains. Making a god of “liberation” does not give ordinary people practical guidance about how to live. The tenet, “Whatever you want to do is okay, so long as it does not conflict with the equally okay things other people want to do,” is not a substantive guide to life. It cannot be, since its tendency is to liberate individuals from those substantive guides that by their nature claim authority over our choices.
There are no supermen who can create their own values ex nihilo. And so “liberation” leads most people to do worse and a great many to founder. Some imitate their betters, keeping their lives in some sort of order through careerism. Others are recalcitrant, clinging to ways that the dominant system denounces as prejudiced or oppressive. Still others use their new freedoms poorly, so that their lives deteriorate in the manner described by Theodore Dalrymple in his essays on the British underclass and by Charles Murray in his book Coming Apart. Whichever way prevails, the custodial state becomes more powerful. Government control is exerted to stamp out “prejudice” and liberate people from traditional ways of life. More government control is then needed to mitigate the bad consequences of freedoms poorly exercised, and to defuse conflicts that cannot be avoided or resolved through the common habits and understandings that once constituted a common culture. The whole approach seems a poor substitute for older, more sustaining, and coherent commitments such as local, family, and community attachments – not to mention the transcendent goals of religious faith.
Read the whole thing there.