Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Dominant Religion of Nothing

The Democrats do: they have Nothing. To believe in Nothing in the present-day manner is to turn the denial of goods that transcend will and desire into a philosophy of life, and even into what amounts to a religion. At bottom there’s no good or bad, that nihilistic view tells us—there is just people doing stuff they feel like doing and trying to get stuff they want. That’s what life is about, so the point of law and morality is to help people do and get those things, as much and as equally as possible.

It is that view, the religion of Nothing, that is now established among us. All views to the contrary are considered hateful and divisive (that is, blasphemous and heretical), so if you have doubts you have to keep quiet about big issues, like what makes life good, and confine your comments to subordinate matters, like success considered purely as such.

The authority of that view entitles judges to rewrite the laws, and requires every Democratic politician to assert the supremacy of Will and Technology (a.k.a. Choice and Change) over natural law and human life. The latter principles tell us that some things have value whether we like it or not, and such principles have to be kept out of public life. They’re at odds with the Supreme Court’s insistence in Planned Parenthood v. Casey that concepts “of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life” must be strictly individual and self-defined.

As in the case of the Republicans, individual Democrats have their own beliefs, which are whatever they may be, and their private lives are normally better than their public commitments. There are sincere Christians and devoted family members in both parties. Nonetheless, there is a difference: by and large, the statements and actions of leading Democrats show that they genuinely believe in their cause. They have a public religion, they’re forthright about what it is, they’ll take risks and make sacrifices to advance it (as Obamacare shows), and they don’t like, don’t respect, don’t understand, and won’t compromise with those who reject it. Resistance is bigotry, in their view, so it has no legitimate place in public life.

Leading Democrats are of course not alone in their faith commitments and their aversion to those who reject them. An established religion has to be accepted by social leaders generally, and the religion of Nothing is actively promoted by the academics and media figures who define what is considered rational and respectable among us. They have good reason to favor it, since it denies the authority of principles higher than the value-free technical expertise and manipulative skill such people stand for. It says that they are truly our intellectual leaders—the clergy and preachers of our New Jerusalem—and there is no one who could outrank them even in principle.

The bureaucrats and businessmen who form the operational branch of our governing class go along with the religion of Nothing as well. They lack the imagination to conceive an alternative, and the religion helps get rid of family, cultural, and religious considerations that complicate economic and organizational decisions. Selling products and dealing with human resources become easier if family and community ties are suppressed so we all become interchangeable consumers and careerists.

Social conservatism still has a following, but it’s weak because it’s almost purely populist. Nobody who runs things at the upper levels has much sympathy for family, community, cultural, or religious institutions or the habits, attitudes, and beliefs that support them. Why should the higher-ups favor authorities and ways of doing things that compete with them and the institutions they control? The Republicans might give traditional values lip service, but they don’t make much of a case for them and drop their support long before push comes to shove. The result is that social conservatism is reactive, it can’t make its case, and it can’t defend itself against propaganda and the deconstruction of the American people through the disintegration of family and cultural ties. - James Kalb

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