Hot on the heels of Markos Moulitsas‘s oxymoronical “The Case for the Libertarian Democrat,” comes Geoffrey R. Stone‘s “What It Means to Be a Liberal.” I will say no more about Moulitsas’s emission because it has been thoroughly disassembled and left in ruins by many a thoughtful person (e.g., Arnold Kling, writing at TCS Daily; Megan McArdle (a.k.a. Jane Galt) of Asymmetrical Information; and Ilya Somin of The Volokh Conspiracy).
I will therefore focus on Prof. Stone’s excrescence, which is more than a straightforward exposition of liberalism. It is, rather, a smug display of a typical liberal’s deluded belief that liberals — almost exclusively — actually care about and advance the welfare of their fellow human beings. It is calculated to build up liberalism by tearing down conservativism and libertarianism, which is hardly good salesmanship. But it’s what I expect of Stone, whose views I have encountered and written about before. In “Killing Free Speech in Order to Save It” I wrote:
Stone is a colleague of Cass Sunstein, a fellow traveler on the road to thought control. . . .
[I]n the world of Sunstein and Stone, we can — and must — legislate and regulate our way to a “tolerant society.” Hah! Notice how well it worked when forced busing was used to integrate schools?
Stone, slippery lawyer that he is, doesn’t give a hoot about Klansmen. What he really wants is to make it illegal for employers to fire anyone for saying anything that seems critical of government policy (Republican policy, in particular). When that’s done, he can take up the cudgels for the Dixie Chicks and go after radio stations that refuse to play their songs.
What Sunstein and Stone mean by “free speech” is “forced listening.” Reminds me of the brainwashing scene in the movie 1984. They’ll like the results as long as they get to play Big Brother. . . .
What Stone and his ilk don’t seem to understand (or choose to ignore) is that government involvement (choosing sides) warps the public debate. For every employer who fires a critical employee and for every popular right-wing talk-show host there are legions of protestors and political opponents whose messages the mainstream media amplify, with gusto. That’s the marketplace of ideas in action. Or do Stone and his ilk favor the suppression of the mainstream media? I doubt it very much. They’re just looking for a pseudo-legal justification for the suppression of speech they don’t like. . . .
[I]f you really favor free speech, you favor it for everyone, not just the lefties favored by Stone.
This is the same Stone who, in the essay I am about to skewer, says that “It is liberals who have championed and continue to champion . . . a more vibrant freedom of speech.” Well, yes, as long as it’s speech that liberals favor. (Consider the recent contretemps at Columbia University and the systematic suppression of speech at liberal-dominated universities, which FIRE documents so well.) Hypocrisy, thy name is liberalism.
Now, on to Stone’s essay about liberalism, in which he “tr[ies] to articulate 10 propositions that seem to [him] to define ‘liberal’ today.” I won’t regurgitate the entire essay, or even the fulsome defense Stone makes of each of his ten propositions. (Masochists may read the whole mess by following the link above.) I will simply reproduce the nub of each of Stone’s propositions and then dispatch it quickly, but mercilessly.
1. . . . individuals should doubt their own truths and consider fairly and open-mindedly the truths of others.
Americans should doubt the truth of their commitment to the freedoms of speech, religion, and the press (for example) and consider for more than a moment the “truths” of fascism, communism, and Islamism? What utter,
open-minded empty-headed nonsense.
2. . . . individuals should be tolerant and respectful of difference.
What he means, of course, is that (to take just a few examples) free speech, property rights, and freedom of association should be suppressed for the sake of “diversity,” as long as the suppression is directed at conservative-libertarian, straight, white males who don’t teach at or attend universities.
3. . . . individuals have a right and a responsibility to participate in public debate.
See above for my take on Stone’s commitment to free speech.
4. . . . “we the people” are the governors and not the subjects of government, and that government must treat each person with that in mind.
When “we the people” are, in fact, the “governors” they do a very good job of of treating as pariahs and enemies those who oppose the
liberal socialistic agenda. Quintessential examples are Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt’s characterizations of the very businessmen who brought prosperity to Americans as “malefactors of great wealth” and “economic royalists,” thus legitimating the class warfare that liberals wage to this very day.
5. . . . government must respect and affirmatively safeguard the liberty, equality and dignity of each individual.
Such thinking leads to the conclusion that “it is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer,” as the saying goes. Balderdash! And more balderdash! As for “respecting” and “affirmatively safeguarding” the liberty, equality, and dignity of each and every individual, see my comments about propositions 2, 3, and 4.
6. . . . government has a fundamental responsibility to help those who are less fortunate.
Stone means, of course, that government should redistribute income and wealth from those who have earned it to those who have not, to the detriment of all. (See this and this for more.)
7. . . . government should never act on the basis of sectarian faith.
That is, laws should not be motivated by the moral precepts of religion. Which, of course, rules out laws against murder, theft, rape, and so on. So much for the “dignity of each individual.” But, of course, “it is better that ten guilty persons escape” so that innocent individuals can suffer the consequences.
8. . . . courts have a special responsibility to protect individual liberties.
What Stone means to say is that courts — not legislatures — should make law, as long it is law that advances the liberal agenda.
9. . . . government must protect the safety and security of the people. . . .
Unless, of course, government acts to prevent terrorism. (See this post and follow the links therein.)
10. . . . government must protect the safety and security of the people, without
unnecessarily sacrificing constitutional values. violating terrorists’ “rights.”
ADDENDUM: Read “Hard Truths for Soft Liberal Heads,” by John Hawkins; “What Does a Liberal Believe?,” by Johnathan Cohen; and “A Dialogue with a Liberal,” by Arnold Kling. See also these earlier Liberty Corner posts:
Ten-Plus Commandments of Liberalism, er, Progressivism
Libertarian-Conservatives Are from the Earth, Liberals Are from the Moon
Liberals and the Rule of Law
Thoughts That Liberals Should Be Thinking
More Thoughts That Liberals Should Be Thinking
The Liberal Mindset