April 27, 2004
EXPLAINING LIBERAL ANGER
by Keith Burgess-Jackson
Why are liberals such as Paul
Krugman, Michael Moore, and Howard Dean so angry and aggressive?
I like to think that I have
insight into this matter, since I was a liberal for a long time.
If you haven't been a liberal,
you may be puzzled by what you hear and read from them. They
may seem -- dare I say it? -- insane, or at least discombobulated.
The first thing you must realize
is that liberals have a program. They are visionaries. They envision
a world in which everyone controls the same amount of resources.
Nobody is born to privilege
or disadvantage; or, if anyone is, it is swiftly neutralized
by the state. To allow disadvantage, they believe, is to become
a participant in it.
Society, to the liberal mind,
is a massive engineering project.
Most of us distinguish misfortune
and injustice. Not the liberal. No misfortune goes unaddressed
by the social engineers.
It is presumed -- conclusively,
without evidence or argument -- that disparities in wealth are
the result of morally arbitrary factors (accidents of birth or
circumstance) rather than individual character, effort, discipline,
work, or merit.
As the philosopher John Kekes
has pointed out so eloquently (see here), liberals disregard
or discount concepts that loom large in the thinking of most
of us, such as personal responsibility and desert.
Most of us believe that responsibility
and desert should play a role in the distribution of benefits
and burdens. Liberals disagree.
Deep down, liberals deny that
anyone is responsible for anything.
What we are, in terms of personal
character, is a function of circumstances beyond our control.
How we behave depends solely on our environment. Our very choices
are determined, not free. Liberalism dissolves the person.
To the liberal, we are loci
of movement rather than initiators of action, patients rather
than agents, heteronomous rather than autonomous beings. Liberals
will deny this, of course, but look at their beliefs and policy
Liberals, unlike conservatives,
are zealous. Like all zealots (true believers), they are eager
to implement their program, but when they attempt to do so, they
This resistance frustrates
them immensely and eventually leads to anger toward and aggression
against those who stand in their way (or are perceived as standing
in their way).
Ideally, liberals would rationally
persuade those who resist in the hope of bringing them around.
But this doesn't work. Belief in personal responsibility and
desert is widespread and entrenched. Time and again, liberals
run up against it. Since it seems obvious to them that the belief
is baseless, they tell themselves a story about why it's pervasive.
It's a multifaceted story.
First, the liberal imagines
that the belief in question is rooted in ignorance. Opponents
of the liberal program simply don't know the facts about responsibility
and desert. But when liberals try to convey these "facts,"
they get no uptake.
Indeed, they get denial.
This leads to the stupidity
hypothesis. Opponents of the liberal program aren't so much ignorant
of facts as incapable of reasoning from and about them. In other
words, they're stupid or unintelligent. They're incapable of
thinking clearly or carefully, even about important matters such
as equality, justice, and fairness.
This explains the liberal
mantra that conservatives, such as Presidents Reagan and Bush,
are stupid. (See here for an explanation of this false liberal
belief.) Note that if conservatives are stupid, liberals, by
contrast, are intelligent. It's all very self-serving.
Deep down, liberals know that
conservatives are no less intelligent than they are. It just
makes them feel good to say as much. So they attribute the pervasive
belief in responsibility and desert to greed.
Opponents of the liberal program
are greedy. They won't admit the truth because they don't want
to share the wealth. They take the positions they do, on matters
such as affirmative action and welfare, to solidify their social
position. Greed is bad, of course, so if you reject the liberal
program, you're evil. You put self-interest ahead of justice.
Here, in one neat package,
we have all the liberal platitudes. Conservatives are ignorant,
stupid, and evil, or some combination of the three. Either they
don't grasp the obvious truth or they're incapable of thinking
clearly or they don't give a damn about anyone but themselves.
Liberals, of course, are the
opposite of all these. They're knowledgeable, intelligent, and
Note that if you believe your
opponents to be stupid or evil, you don't try to reason with
them. Stupid people, like animals and children, need guidance
by their superiors. Evil people need suppression.
It's often been remarked that
liberals are less adept than conservatives at arguing for their
views. Now you see why. They don't practice.
That, in a nutshell, is the
It explains why liberals are
so angry, hateful, and spiteful and why they resort to courts
rather than to legislatures to implement their vision of the
They have given up hope of
engaging their adversaries on rational ground. They know that
they can't muster a majority for their causes.
To liberals, only the outcome
matters, not the process. Without power, their egalitarianism
is mere fantasy.
But conservatives should be
careful not to dismiss it as such, for liberals have demonstrated
that they will do whatever it takes to secure and retain power.
We saw it in the case of Robert Bork. We saw it in the case of
Bill Clinton. We see it in the case of war in Iraq.
To the liberal, the end justifies
Take it from me, a former
Keith Burgess-Jackson, J.D.,
Ph.D., is a frequent contributor to Tech Central Station. He
is Associate Professor of Philosophy at The University of Texas
at Arlington, where he teaches courses in Logic, Ethics, Philosophy
of Religion, and Philosophy of Law. He has two stinkers, Sophie
and Shelbie, and two hyperactive blogs: AnalPhilosopher and Animal