WHY DISCUSSIONS WITH THE PARTISAN “LIBERAL” LEFT ARE LIKE CONVERSATIONS WITH RELIGIOUS FUNDAMENTALISTS:
For Them, Political Liberalism is a Secular Religion
An Irreverent Analysis
Jay B. Gaskill
Let me define my terms. All thinking people who respect human life and dignity are liberals in the larger sense. So that makes me and most thinking conservatives liberals, too. That larger, generous liberalism is not my topic.
For purposes of this essay, I’m applying the term “political liberal” to the partisan liberal left, those people for whom being a “liberal”: (a) is kind of a calling, in which some one’s declaration that “I’m a liberal” sounds very much like “I’m a Seventh Day Adventist” (my apologies to all SDA’s – this is just an illustration); (b) the liberal self-identification is meant to immediately imply a specific litany – dare I say catechism -- of specific doctrines. In general these are the positions that are shared by the left wing of the Democratic Party and the Green party.
A short list of the defining “positions” of political liberals would include the common liberal sentiments (opposition to racism, the devaluation of women and the concern for the protection of the quality of the natural environment, which are mainstream issues and sentiments widely shared by moderates and conservatives). But in the “fevered minds” of political liberals, these sentiments become conflated into an epic struggle against the grotesque foes of all that is good and true. We face a mythic “liberal” construct in which all middle class whites are inherently racist; all heterosexual males are irredeemably sexist; and all businesses (save a select few who donate heavily to liberal causes) are bent on raping the environment.
Beyond these silly caricatures, the same minds tend to view all military and police as small minded, atavistic brutes, and see conservatives as living in trailer parks (or as having been somehow trained in them, retaining their trailer park values as they have become indecently wealthy by selling cars). In these same minds, concern for sexual freedom and female autonomy get turned into a general doctrine that decries any attempt to regulate what adult people do with their sexual and reproductive organs. Even discussions about regulating very late term procedures to terminate an unborn fetus (whose heart is actually beating), or attempts to control children who want to escape from the “sexual tyranny” of their parents are ruled out of bounds. We must not even entertain these thoughts, lest we – God forbid – practice right wing zealotry.
My point here is not to debate the merits of the public policy issues that make up the catechism of the left, but to explore the notion that, collectively, these views are a catechism. There is no better explanation for the extreme resistance of the “political liberal” group to all rational argument. For this discussion, please don’t conclude anything about my own views, except that they are determined issue-by-issue from a philosophical and moral framework that is rooted in certain durable verities and a commitment to real world engagement. The latter, of course, requires a great degree of flexibility of approach, attention to evidence, and the willingness to reexamine assumptions; in short, it requires a dedication to doing what works in the real world.
Anyone who takes on the challenging but rewarding task of real world moral engagement hits a bizarre wall when attempting a reasonable policy dialogue with these partisan creatures I’m calling “political liberals”. Why is this? The political liberal mindset is dominant in a number of parts of this country. It is held by self-styled “sophisticated and thoughtful” people who vigorously reject the very idea that their belief system constitutes an ideology. Of course, when they deviate from the main doctrine, they tend to speak very softly indeed.
Liberalism in this form is a secular religion. This religion originated, innocently enough, as an attempt to off-load the entire charitable and humanitarian enterprise to the regulatory and social action agencies of government. Somehow, it has survived the demise of national and international socialism by appealing to some of the very groups who were threatened by the former ideologies.
The point of interest here is that political liberals consist of two groups: the angry and outspoken activists who define “pure” doctrine, and the much larger group who simply go along. It is the unwillingness of this second, larger group to openly deviate from doctrine that interests me. I believe that, for this larger group (most of whom are well off financially and educated far above the “trailer park” level they tend to despise), the primary function of this secular religion is to protect the comfortable lifestyles of its adherents. 
It is no coincidence that
political liberals thickly populate some of the wealthiest and best educated
coastal and urban communities in
How do we explain the fierce grip maintained by the religion of political liberalism over its adherents?
Liberalism’s tendency to elevate “correct” stances and gestures creates an extraordinary ability to shield the comfortable hedonist life styles of its main adherents from moral criticism. Thus the religion of liberalism represents a form of social détente and clever camouflage.
The religion of political liberalism has three principal canons:
The psychological strength of the
liberal religion derives from four related developments in the human condition,
mostly confined to the highly developed and prosperous communities in
(1) The collapse of traditional religious and other transcendent moral claims on the individual among the dominant intelligentsia of the developed world;
(2) The persistent, nagging voice of residual conscience, still suffered by those anti-traditional secularists who have not yet succumbed to outright nihilism;
(3) The emperor-has-no-clothes fragility of the whole act, such that any invalidation or repudiation of a part of the doctrine threatens the whole;
(4) The deep psychological dread of any prospective return to individual accountability measured by an authoritative moral system.
The last point raises a particularly frightening scenario for those liberals who lack refuge in “Plan B” (i.e., the resort to the supporting infrastructure of a transcendent, stable belief system supported by a community of co-believers, in effect, to religion). For these minds, having rejected the classical tradition and lacking the safety net of ordinary religion (which has been rejected by liberalism-as-secular-religion as the construct of atavistic superstition), the prospect of such a return to individual (as opposed to collective) moral accountability represents either of two unacceptable alternatives:
(5) A return to a moral system in which one’s own conduct is seen again as “sinful” or
(6) A condition of moral free fall in which civil order is threatened. Either choice threatens the comfortable cocoons of protected, gentile hedonism in which the followers of liberalism-as-religion hope to live out their anxious lives.
This is why any reasoned discussion of conservative alternatives to social problems can so quickly degenerate into personal attacks and mindless sloganeering. These taunts are just a modern form of that ancient, bone-chilling cry: “Burn the heretic!”
Copyright © 2004 by Jay B. Gaskill
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 And the secondary function is to supply that missing “meaning of life” component for those without religion or deeper philosophical principles.
 The attraction of this idea is powerful because most of us have “sinned” at least once!
 Note that political liberals have long ago rejected Plan C, the collective wisdom of the classical tradition.
 I can’t resist pointing out that political correctness has recreated sin by another name.