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The Need to Confront the Moral Blind Spots of Contemporary Liberalism-- Part I

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My website --www.NoneSoBlind.org/-- is substantially devoted to the task of alerting people to the dark and disturbing reality that evil forces have taken over our country, and to calling people to rise to meet that challenge.

But my message is not predominantly political, much less strictly partisan. One of the enduring statements on its front page reads: "The struggle that needs to be waged in America most urgently is not between liberal and conservative values but between those""on both side of the divide""who genuinely care about the good and those powerful people who only pretend to." And another says, "Each side of America's political and cultural divide is challenged to overcome its moral blindspot."

For I believe that our cultural polarization over the past forty years ago has created cracks in the basic American structures of goodness through which the opportunistic forces of evil have managed to infiltrate and, with the Bushite regime, managed to seize control.

This is something that I discussed in my piece --published here last month-- "The Concept of Evil-- Why It's Intellectually Valid and Politically and Spiritually Important." (opednews.com/articles/opedne_andrew_b_051114_the_concept_of_evil.htm )

Recently, I invited the visitors to my website to help me flesh out the idea that contemporary American liberalism has contributed to the erosion of the structures of goodness in this country.

"In a morally healthy country," I wrote, "people like George W. Bush, Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld would not have been handed such power. It is important that we not only see the evil of the forces these people represent, but see also the wider cultural context that made it possible for such characters as these to be enthroned in America.

"And part of this context has to do with the thrust in certain parts of liberalism, since the 1960s, to discredit the kinds of judgments we are now called upon to make-- e.g. between good and evil."

I then went on to provide some "Illustrative Categories" to help stimulate people's thinking:

"To help evoke in your minds some of your experience and observations that could help flesh out this picture, I will here break the assertion down into some illustrative categories.

"One is the idea of moral relativism." In "The Concept of Evil," I wrote the following to illustrate the rise of the idea that moral judgments are merely personal opinions, with no transcendent basis for declaring one view really better than another: 'Among students I've dealt with across two generations, it's been common to hear -even from those who describe themselves as Biblical Christians""such statements as "What the Nazis did at Auschwitz isn't what I would have done, but from within their perspective it was right, and so it was right for them."'

"Not unrelated is the way liberal culture has chopped away at the idea of the heroic. Not only do we have fewer protagonists in our popular culture who are worthy of admiration --it's a long way from Father Knows Best to Homer Simpson-- but we also have been energetic about exposing the feet of clay of people whom previous generations have --literally or figuratively-- put onto the Mount Rushmore of heroic visions. My point is not that the earlier vision was accurate, nor that the feet had no clay. But the holding before our eyes of the most admirable qualities of our flawed heroes was an important part of our own moral training. Whether or not the saints were so saintly, a people who reads a Lives of the Saints -- a people who hold before their ideas some ideal of what a human being might be like-- is likely to have a stronger hold on the idea of goodness than people for whom they main aspect of Jefferson they look at is that he had children with Sally Hemmings.

"Likewise in its defense of trash culture --extending the respectable idea that it's wrong to censor into the more dubious idea that it's wrong to censure-- liberalism has contributed to an erosion of the idea that moral values, and not just whatever any person happens to want, should weigh in the decisions of both individuals and societies.

"This connects, too, with the decline of parental authority--and of the authority of teachers and schools as well-- in the molding of children. The deterioration of manners is but part of this picture. Not that such authorities have not abused their power in earlier eras. Nor do I deny that such authorities have sometimes transmitted foolish notions. But liberalism has tended to discard the notion that part of what children need is to be embedded in a morally structured environment, and to be compelled to develop the habits of good character. Some aspects of liberalism have sought not to improve authority but to discredit the whole idea of authority.

"Some parts of contemporary liberal culture have also taken the legitimate idea of enhancing children's self-esteem in directions that erode the idea of "standards." While the conservatives have looked at the self-esteem movement through the foolish idea that the bravado of hoods and punks demonstrates the danger of cultivating people's self-esteem --as if the outward show of confidence were not a compensation for just the opposite feeling at the fundamental level-- some parts of liberal culture have tried to protect the young from any true judgment of their performance. So everybody gets a trophy. Everybody's painting is 'great.' As if the self-esteem to which everyone is entitled is to be special and great, rather than to be valued and loved for being the human creatures they are.

"'Judgment' per se is condemned in many liberal circles. About the only thing some people are willing to judge is the sin of "judgmentalism." About the only thing some people will not tolerate is "intolerance."

"The idea of 'liberty' is used to cover a multitude of sins. People may have the "right" to do all sorts of immoral things. But that doesn't mean they have the right not to be criticized for them.

"A number of liberals have written to me to condemn such condemnation. Besides often asking, 'Who are you to judge?' which would pretty much apply to everyone, and thus take judgment out of the picture, they declare that people's choices in their own lives are their own business and no one else's. I very much liked J.S. Mill's famous essay, 'On Liberty.' But is it not an over-simplification to suggest that the choices people make in their own lives have no impact on society?

"What if it could be shown that the choices people have been making over the past forty years in their private lives --what movies to watch, what music to listen to, how to raise their children, how to think about 'value judgments,' etc.-- are an important part of what made it possible for the moral frauds now occupying the White House to make the sale to the American people?"

The ensuing discussion was substantive and worthwhile but the irritability quotient in the responses --some posted, some not-- definitely spiked upward. A good deal more energy was invested in challenging my assertion that liberalism has any kind of "morality problem" than into fleshing out that assertion.

That's entirely understandable""particularly in view of the vicious attacks to which liberals and liberalism have been subjected in recent times. With people from Newt Gingrich to Karl Rove engaged in an unscrupulous and dishonest campaign to outright destroy their opposition, little wonder that liberals today would be defensive.

But, as I subsequently wrote on my website after the discussion had unfolded a good ways,it is important that we not, in response to such assaults, forfeit one of liberalism's greatest strengths.

Liberalism has the virtue of valuing continuous re-appraisal of one's positions. We regard the search for truth as never-ending, admiring the ever-correcting processes of science more than the approach of "God said it, I believe it, and that settles it." We liberals do not value group solidarity over intellectual integrity. We're not oriented toward dogma and received doctrine.

These are why, as I know from experience, one can speak challengingly to a liberal audience and be appreciated in a way that is very far from true, on the whole, with audiences on the other side.

And it is on the basis of that experience that I am submitting that same invitation to the readers of opednews.com. And that I will post here tomorrow a continuation of what I said, in my second installment, to the visitors to my website.
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Andy Schmookler, an award-winning author, political commentator, radio talk-show host, and teacher, was the Democratic nominee for Congress from Virginia's 6th District. His new book -- written to have an impact on the central political battle of our time -- is (more...)
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