Saturday, August 07, 2004

Liberalism as a secular religion

This issue might well appear to some to be a case of social engineering gone crazily immoral...

Liberals sometimes act as if they are following a kind of secular religion, rather than a political ideology.

I was reminded of this when reading an editorial from the Brisbane Courier Mail (15/5/2001). The topic was whether women should be accepted into the frontline as combat troops.

The editor did a reasonable job in listing the possible objections to such a move. He asked,

Are women indeed physically up to the task of lugging around a 30kg pack for weeks on end? Will their presence in the frontline ranks prove a distraction to the male soldiers whose protective instincts towards them might undermine unit efficiency? Or, conversely, might they be exposed to widespread sexual harassment?

Might women, too, undermine that fierce, tightly knit loyalty and interdependence on which military morale is built? Might they even, perversely, be responsible for higher casualty rates in battle...

And so on.

However, having taken the trouble to raise these objections, he then dismisses them out of hand by writing,

Yet all of these objections, however practical and well-meaning, represent a denial of the right of women to choose for themselves what roles they will fill in time of war.

Think about this. The editor will not consider objections "however practical and well-meaning" if this conflicts with the liberal principle of individualism: the idea of individuals being free to create themselves in any direction.

The principle of individualism is to be preferred, even if it potentially weakens the armed forces, and therefore the continued existence of the liberal society itself.

This is not a very pragmatic approach to politics. The editor seems to be aware of this as he goes on to admit that,

Yes, this issue might well appear to some to be a case of social engineering gone crazily immoral, but the irrefutable fact is that society has changed since the dark days of WWII.

Women have chosen to throw off the limitations imposed on them, even those limitations intended for their own protection.

The editor recognises that his beliefs may be considered immoral, and that they might leave women unprotected. His response?

He invokes something he considers to be of greater importance: the progress of society toward an individualism in which we "throw off the limitations imposed" on us (ie we deconstruct those aspects of society that we did not choose for ourselves).

It's important that we try to understand the liberal mind so that we know what we're up against. The views presented by the Courier Mail editor make it clear that liberals don't always follow a pragmatic self-interest.

They do have first principles which they treat almost as "articles of faith" and are willing to follow through to the end. This is the sense in which liberalism can be seen as a kind of secular religion.

(First published at Conservative Central, 27/05/2002)

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