The other day I had an exchange with a progressive about Amy Coney Barrett. The exchange was touched off by Ms. Progressive’s comment about Barrett’s faith: “I don’t think her religion is a problem as much as her religious convictions driving her decision making is.”
I encounter this sort of muddled thinking from progressives all of the time. And it is always based on the same progressive myth – the myth that some people (namely, progressives) arrive at their conclusions (whether the conclusion concerns a matter of policy, law, politics or whatever else) from some morally neutral and objectively rational “view from nowhere” while other people’s conclusions are based on their biases (or bigotries if the progressive is not feeling charitable). This stupidity is a close cousin to the perennial canard “you can’t legislative morality,” which is also based on the myth that progressive legislation is morally neutral while conservative legislation is freighted with a moral perspective.
I don’t know if progressives actually believe this myth. Many of them (my interlocutor for instance) certainly act like they do. But whether they actually believe it or not, the myth is certainly useful politically. After all, who are you going to believe – the objectively rational progressive whose views are based on pure unadulterated reason or the biased (or bigoted) conservative? Once the question is framed in these terms, the outcome becomes almost a foregone conclusion. Why, we choose pure unadulterated reason of course.
This lunacy has thoroughly infected our body politic, and the infection has a name: Rawlsian public reason theory. Whether you have heard of John Rawls or not, he has had a profound affect on your life. Rawls posited a theory of justice based on what he called an “original position.” The original position is based on the imagined outcome of policy conclusions made by “human beings” with no knowledge of the actual facts of human existence – this is the objective view from nowhere.
Of course, only a highly credentialed academic (Rawls was a professor at Harvard) could believe something so stupid. Any child should understand that no such “human being” actually exists, and when Rawls came back from the mountain to announce what the “human beings” had decided was fair and just, what he was really announcing is what Rawls had decided was fair and just.
John Rawls, like everyone else, based his political positions on his moral presuppositions. The difference is that Rawls pretended that his views were based on objective reason, and that no rational person could possibly disagree with him. That staggering hubris has had a profound influence on progressives ever since. Following Rawls, they all come back from their individual mountains and announce their objectively true policy conclusions to their poor benighted inferiors.
Consider Ms. Progressive’s take on Amy Coney Barrett as just one example. Of course, Ms. Progressive’s main objection to Barrett has everything to do with abortion. Unsurprisingly, Ms. Progressive is in favor of the practically unlimited “constitutional right” to kill unborn children in their mother’s wombs that stems from Roe v. Wade. And she sees Barrett’s nomination as a threat to that “right.” And like progressives always do, she seeks to set the terms of the debate from the very beginning not as a choice between good policy* and bad policy, but as a choice between the dictates of pure reason advocated by Ms. Progressive and the religious bigotry being pushed by Judge Barrett.
But of course it should be plain that that fact that Barrett is a person of faith should have no more bearing on the matter than the fact that Ms. Progressive is a militant secularist. Both have a moral point of view that is informed by their background and worldview. There is no reason to favor one moral point of view over the other.
Ms. Barrett believes that killing an unborn baby is evil. Ms. Progressive believes that it is good to give a mother a choice to kill her unborn baby. Yes, Ms. Barrett’s position on abortion is based on her moral beliefs that are in turn formed by her worldview, which is in turn influenced by her religious beliefs. But the same can be said of Ms. Progressive. Ms. Progressive’s position on abortion is based on her moral beliefs that are in turn formed by her worldview, which is in turn influenced by her beliefs about the fundamental nature of reality (i.e., her religious beliefs).
The only difference is that Ms. Barrett would undoubtedly concede that her moral views are based on her beliefs about fundamental things, while Ms. Progressive pretends she has no moral presuppositions. And this is what makes people like Ms. Progressive far more dangerous than people like Ms. Barrett will ever be. The most dangerous fanatic is the one who is serenely confident in the absolute purity of her own views, because that confidence allows Jacobins (both ancient and modern) to justify violence to further their political project. After all, if by definition only bigoted and evil people can possibly disagree with you, you are not only permitted to visit violence on them, but you are also practically morally compelled to do so.
*I am setting to one side the issue of whether Supreme Court justices should even be making policy choices about abortion. They should not, but that is an argument for another day.