Dear Lefties, This is why Righties Fear What You Are Capable of When You Have Power

A reader writes:

A friend of mine–a veteran, a gay rights activist and Democratic campaign volunteer–came out with this doozy in the course of a conversation online: “you only have as many rights as the political capital you own.”

This came right after he was lambasting the Church for taking a stand for religious liberty on the HHS mandate and against gay marriage across the country. It was a remarkably revealing conversation, sort of a perfect encapsulation of the end results of what Dr. Hahn and others call the “via moderna.”

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  • I’ve had that conversation! An old friend, who is a scientist and very smart, objected to something or other. I said that as an American he could not object without denying our system of government, because our Founders declared that certain things they described as “rights” came from God, and thus cannot be abridged or violated by government because they precede and “trump” government. He said that there aren’t any natural rights, that all rights come from government. What can you do with that? All I could say was that if rights come from government, then government can take them away. But he didn’t care, because he thought the government agreed with him on what rights should be, and that it always would because he and the government were good people. Another friend who expressed a similar sentiment said, serenely, “don’t forget, WE are the government.” Oh, and that means we can do no wrong???? When I was a child (not that long ago!) I was taught that “might makes right” and “the ends justify the means” were not only unAmerican sentiments, but were objectively wrong. People like my friends do not think so, and they seem completely unable to imagine a situation where they are in the minority and “the people” determine against them.

    • The Deuce

      But he didn’t care, because he thought the government agreed with him on what rights should be, and that it always would because he and the government were good people.

      And if you ask what makes them good people, you’ll get some variation of “Because we respect peoples’ rights.”

    • bob

      Wow, reminds me of a conversation about who had more power I read once; fellow named Pilate was talking to somebody.

  • Brian

    Wow. I have to find Dr Hahn’s take on this. It certainly permeates our society (on a local and personal level as well). “get what you can, when you can”.

  • kenneth

    This friend of a reader, whoever he may be, may not in fact be the authorized spokesmen for all “Lefties” in the nation. Moreover, his triumphalist sort of “might makes right” nihilism is hardly unique to leftists/liberals. Nor is there any need for fearful speculation of “what they’re capable of” when they have power. It’s all in the recent historical record from the eight years “righties” were in power.

    The idea that power justifies itself was not just the musings of one of their blogger friends. It was the entire basis of the Bush Administration. They did not merely flirt with this idea. They joined it in a covenant marriage, effectively suspending the Constitution to permit pre-emptive murder, indefinite detention without charge, torture, and a “security” culture which views even our own citizenry as a potential enemy at all times. The legal and political culture which gave rise to this was not created by a lefty, although the current one seems rather content keeping it around. The sentiments which this anonymous lefty blogger espouse and which the right wing has shed blood by, is not a product of any one ideology. It is the product of extremism that has arisen from the paranoid and insular bubbles of epistemic closure in every corner of American politics of the last decades.

    Finding the most extreme and misguided members of your opposition and appointing them as spokespeople for the movement is unhelpful and rife with possibilities for retaliation. If you wish to define all Obama voters as acolytes of this one Machiavellian blogger, be prepared to have conservatism defined by the birthers, the guys advocating armed separatism, the preachers who advocate concentration camps for gays etc.

    • “be prepared to have conservatism defined by the birthers, the guys advocating armed separatism, the preachers who advocate concentration camps for gays etc.”

      In terms of the popular cultural narrative, it already is.

    • Ted Seeber

      I too thought it already was. Which is why I get in fights with people at both extremes.

      The Birthers (both Obama style and Pro-Birth style) really irritate me. At least, until I found out the biggest Obama Birther was Obama himself (he used his supposed Kenyan birth to sell books at one time, and the birth certificate a staffer posted on the web was such an obvious fake it made me think he invented all the birther nonsense just to further his own career). But the pro-birthers still bug the heck out of me. How the hell can you call yourself pro-life and still be for Market Rule Capitalism?

    • Jon W


      Would you say that, by-and-large, philosophical Leftists can be counted on to take seriously the concept of rights as rooted in some sort of Natural Law that really does dictate good ways to live? Or are they merely concerned with “rights” that protect individuals from undue interference from the society?

      Because if their position is the second position (as I find most people in this country but especially Leftists to hold), then that leaves the concepts of “undue” and “interference” dangerously undefinable. And since those concepts are undefinable in any shared sense – that is to say, if there is a real, philosophical impossibility of arriving at commonly shared understandings of the “good life” and the understandings of “undue” and “interference” that are logically derived from that good – then politics really does come down to “how much political capital can you muster to defend the good as you, personally, define it.”

    • Hello, Kenneth!

      Of course that line of thinking also exists on the right. I spent several hours one night arguing with a loyal Republican activist come north from Texas to help with the McCain campaign about human rights. He could not conceive that I might somehow believe that we owed suspected terrorists due process of law and no waterboarding. I cited our embrace of the Geneva convention, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and other such international accords on human rights. He kept protesting that since terrorists were not signatories to the agreements, they could not possibly be covered under them. I kept attempting to explain that it didn’t matter who else had signed them–if we took them seriously, then we acknowledged the existence of universal human rights which would apply independent of a scrap of paper. He just couldn’t begin to see my point, and kept bringing the argument back around to the lack of an Al Qaeda signature on the documents.

      No, both sides are deeply infected by the via moderna ( Both sides have adopted the fundamentally dangerous premise of liberation theology/modern Marxism: anyone with less is a victim, not a moral agent, and so anything they do in order to rectify the imbalance of power is justified. Any evil that is done in the course of the conflict is the fault of the oppressor, never the oppressed. The only way an oppressor can redeem themself is by turning on their own class and joining the oppressed in their struggle for revolution and the dictatorship of the formerly oppressed–which kicks the cycle into gear again, because now we have a new oppressed class who can do no wrong and a new oppressing class who can do no right. As Mike Myers once said in a jolly suit, “It’s a vicious cycle.”

      Anyway–of course they exist on both sides. But the left has gone full on via moderna because being modern =progressive! The right retains in some nooks and crannies Christians, Jews, and others with roots in pre-modern sources, who can criticize this movement and take a stand against it. Sure, the right is endeavoring to squash out these last Homely Houses. We’re engaged in an effort of evangelization that will have to penetrate both parties and soon, or else it’ll be done by martyrdom in the midst of persecution and mass apostasy.

  • In my conversations with the homosexual left, they almost all deny Natural Law because they can’t defend their behavior in that context. And yet, their demands for “rights” are all predicated on the existence of Natural Law. Talk about cognitive dissonance.

  • A Philosopher

    Seconding what Kenneth says: of course there are some on the left who are anti-realists about rights. Similarly, there are some on the right who are anti-realists about rights. I suppose to give us a little bit of a reason to fear both left and right being in power (but only a little bit — the anti-realism isn’t ubiquitous in either case, and there’s precious little correlation between people’s meta-ethics and their normative ethics).

    And in response to Florentius: I think homosexual activity is easy to defend in natural law terms. Homosexual activity, like all sexual activity, has a unitive function, and achieving union with others is part of the natural state of people. Of course, you’re likely to disagree with that view about what’s natural, but that’s now a disagreement within the normative ethics, not the metaethics.

    • Marion (Mael Muire)

      I like to achieve union with others, like, for example when my husband and I get together with friends to go to our local college football game, and cheer for the team. Or when out-of-town family come to our place, or when we go theirs for Thanksgiving.

      Sex is different. Sex represents a different kind of unitiveness. It’s a making one as God made them one – male and female – in the Garden of Eden. That kind of one-ness has a multi-layered purpose. It’s a making one, with the end goal of making others – little others – and of having a safe and loving haven in which they may be reared and nurtured.

  • The Deuce

    Your reader’s friend put it almost as eloquently as Woodrow Wilson himself!

  • SouthCoast

    It’s merely a re-statement from one of the present regime’s favorite authors: “Power comes from the barrel of a gun”.

  • Dave Pawlak

    “That promise I did not keep.” (said Uncle Andrew).

    “Well, then, it was jolly rotten of you,” said Digory

    “You mean that little boys ought to keep their promises. Very true: most right and proper, I’m sure, and I’m very glad you have been taught to do it. But of course you must understand that rules of that sort, however excellent they may be for little boys – and servants – and women – and even people in general, can’t possibly be expected to apply to profound students and great thinkers and sages. No, Digory. Men like me, who possess hidden wisdom, are freed from common rules just as we are cut off from common pleasures. Ours, my boy, is a high and lonely destiny.”

    As he said this he sighed and looked so grave and noble and mysterious that for a second Digory really thought he was saying something rather fine. But then he remembered the ugly look he had seen on his Uncle’s face the moment before Polly had vanished: and all at once he saw through Uncle Andrew’s grand words. “All it means,” he said to himself, “Is that he thinks he can do anything he likes to get anything he wants.”

  • Dave Pawlak

    The preceding is from The Magician’s Nephew, by C. S. Lewis.

  • BobRN

    The God of the OT and NT never condones human sacrifice. This gentleman’s friend is commenting from a position of ignorance regarding the God of the Bible. I doubt that’s ever stopped him before, though.