Autonomy and community

That might as well be the title to everything I post, so thoroughly does the conflict preoccupy me.  Anyway, I like Jonah Goldberg's take on two fathers of modern liberalism, Burke and Paine:
The Burkean believes government is there to give all of the institutions of society room to thrive and discover what is good through trial and error.  The Paineian sees progress as a society-wide movement, led by government, with no safe harbors from the Cause.  This is why Paine was one of the earliest advocates of a welfare state — funded by a massive inheritance tax — that would intervene to empower every individual. 
President Obama's second inaugural was a thoroughly Paineian document.  In his telling, America is made up of individuals and a government with nary anything in between.  And because "no single person" can do the things that need to be done, "we must do these things together, as one nation." 
The debate over homosexuality and gay marriage is part of a much larger debate that includes everything from Obamacare — particularly its hostility to religious exemptions — to school vouchers, federalism and the "wars" on women, Christmas, trans fats and inequality. 
The children of Burke form the philosophical core of what was called the "leave me alone coalition," a broad group of institutions and individuals who rightly, and occasionally wrongly, rejected a top-down effort to impose a one-size-fits-all vision of society.  The children of Paine, empowered by their sense of cosmic justice, want all of society's oars to pull as one.  And if you don't pull your oar to the beat of their drum, prepare for their wrath.


Grim said...

The collective notion of the left is important, but you can't understand the contemporary left without understanding J.S. Mill. The legal tradition they're employing (in this debate as elsewhere) is that you can't have a law against something unless you can prove that the failure to have the law harmed someone -- and someone specific, in a specific kind of way. Now proving a negative is incredibly difficult, so that eventually nearly all social standards dissolve.

It fits with the hedonistic move that characterizes the post-1960s left, which was always the charge against Mill: that utilitarianism could be interpreted as "pleasure = good."

raven said...

"And if you don't pull your oar to the beat of their drum, prepare for their wrath."

Fine. To be hated by evil is a thing to aspire to.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Fascism comes from the term "fasces", or sticks, which when bound together are unbreakable.

We can all see the benefits of standing together for a cause. I can even grant some justice to governments incentivising standing together for the good of us all. But it's a slippery slope, and the move to making us all act as one for the good of the group always ends up being good for some members of the group and not others.