Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Why I am critical of "the right" (and "the left")

Recently I had a Facebook exchange with a former student who wondered why I was critical of "the right" and "never" criticized the moral and political failures of "the left." Here is my response:

Dear Student,

You have been in my classes and know that I am PRO LIFE: which means I am against abortion, euthanasia, and (in order to be consistently  prolife) war and the death penalty. (Though I admit I still struggle with those last two.) You know that I am a passionate supporter of virtue ethics. Therefore, I think you mistake my criticisms of "the right" as support for "the left." I haven't written anything about human trafficking, or stem cells or gluttony or divorce or genital mutilation or the EMX route on West 11th. By your logic, because I haven't written about them I must not be concerned about those issues, but that is a mistake!

The reason you might seem to see concern about the "evils of the right" is because that group, which I have long identified with, has so dissapointed me. We are most hurt by those we love. The group which I had thought was more closely aligned with Kingdom values now seems to be no better than any other. IMO we have moved backwards, rather than forward, since 1994. Not only are abortion and euthanasia still legal, thousands have died in Iraq and Afghanistan, the unemployment rate is 9.3%, the U.S. National debt is over $14 trillion, the U.S. Gini index is almost 50, health insurance costs are rising faster than wages or inflation, and medical causes were cited by about half of bankruptcy filers in the United States.

The thread that runs through all my posts is a preoccupation with truth and justice, (justice understood as the right ordering of human beings in themselves, with each other, and with God-- "shalom"--which inevitably involves consideration of the Good, and the common good.) This is why I have been writing about health care, the economy and war, because they have been the places where the biggest disputes about justice have been recently occurring. If there had been a Facebook back in 1994, I'd have been posting about Oregon's "Death with Dignity" act. In fact, if you read my blog (which I started in 2005) you can find plenty disagreement with "the left;" but don't expect to see me support nominalist platforms.

In particular, the only way I think America can be prolife is if it has a strong understanding of persons-in-community (aka, a realist metaphysic) as opposed to individuals-on-their-own. It grieves me to see how "the right" has, over the past few years, moved increasingly toward a nominalist metaphysic, because I fear the resulting emphasis on individuals and their absolute freedom will in effect cause the prolife cause to backfire. IMO what ground we still have is in jeopardy, and we need to hold on to it. Libertarianism is the threat, because it ultimately denies there is such a thing as the common good. Remember C. S. Lewis' analogy of the ships? (See The Three Parts of MOrality, in Mere Christianity, here. If there isn't a port that we are sailing toward, what's the point of worrying about the seaworthiness of each ship? Or what formation they are travelling in?

So, in presenting the quote above, my intention was to focus on things that affect our national character. Those who take it as "dissing the right" are probably those who are uncomfortable with the notion of a common good: those who, having fallen under the spell of modernist individualism, resent any discussion of virtues which might limit individual autonomy.

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