I have described myself politically as a conservatively-tempered progressive populist-centrist American nationalist, or, more simply, as a Progressive Republican and a Hamiltonian.
In a recent post, I discussed the influence of the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street movements of 2009 and 2011, and the general political unrest of that time period, on the evolution of my political thought. I also intimated that the writings of Alexander Hamilton deeply affected my political thinking from then onward.
Here, I will discuss some of the various individuals who have influenced my political thought leading up to this moment on April 17, 2015. I will be brief.
To Walter Russell Mead I owe my concern for the reform of governance out of the Blue Social Model of the 1930s and 1960s, and my appreciation for the importance of populism in America. To Mead I owe my tendency to seek the via media, the middle way, in every case in as principled a way as possible. I also owe to him my understanding of the institutions and heritage of the English-speaking peoples being the foundations of liberalism and liberty. To Mead I also owe my passion to develop a Liberalism 5.0.
To Adam Garfinkle I owe my passion for anti-elitism and anti-plutocratic reforms in governance, to liberate American government from a parasitic elite and make it more truly democratic. To him I also owe my Centrist-Conservative Temperament and my propensity for manifesto-writing to express my ideas, as well as a healthy respect for the historical background of any given society. And finally to him, I owe my basic familiarity with the principles of subsidiarity, social capital and the garden society.
To Michael Lind I owe my understanding of government not as a necessary evil, but as a positive good capable of both promoting a sound and stable market and driving economic growth. To Lind I also owe my senses of federal nationalism, economic nationalism, and cultural melting-pot nationalism- the foundations of Liberal Nationalism. To Lind I also owe my adoration of the label “Hamiltonian.”
To Joel Kotkin I owe my expanded appreciation for individual economic opportunities, broad-based economic growth, and a low cost of living as the necessary prerequisites of a healthy and robust middle class and an opportunity society- the fundamental promise of Opportunity Urbanism. To Kotkin I also owe my preference, in urban planning, for suburban and exurban developments, multiple city cores, single-family housing, and multiple transportation options. To Kotkin I also owe my understanding of elite class warfare.
To the scholars at the Breakthrough Institute, particularly Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus, I owe my Schumpeterian understanding of innovation and technological advancement as the primary drivers of economic growth. I owe them my preference for massive productive investments- education, innovation, infrastructure- over consumptive spending, like entitlements and pensions. And I owe them my passion for reducing carbon emissions, reducing land use, and reducing resource use through the innovative decoupling of human consumption from natural sources through the advancement of technology- the fundamental premise of Eco-Modernism.
To David Brooks, I owe my mix of Burkean and Hamiltonian influences and my desire for a long-lost Hamiltonian Republicanism based on creating opportunities for strivers and entrepreneurs.
To Robert D. Kaplan, I owe my Tragic Understanding of the Human Condition as half determined by agency, half determined by fate. Kaplan’s works convinced me of the flawed and imperfectible state of the Human Condition, the fundamentally ancient character of the politics of all the world, and the enduring value of the great works of literature and political thought for understanding the nature of human affairs.
To George Friedman, I owe my basic understanding of rational Grand Strategy and Geopolitics. His work has trained me in basic geopolitical analysis and decisionmaking, and has shed light where darkness once unequivocally ruled.
To Victor Davis Hanson, I owe my appreciation for the inestimable importance of Virtue and Manliness, standing upon timeless principles, in social and personal affairs. From Hansen I have also reaffirmed my understanding of human nature as eternal, and the works of the ancients as crucial to understanding the nature of human affairs.
To Yuval Levin, I owe my appreciation for the mediating institutions of civil society and the importance of norms, traditions, and customs in the formulation of public policy. Also to Levin I owe my basic understanding of the Conservative Traditionalist Temperament.
To Timothy B. Shutt, I owe my basic familiarity with the Literary Foundations of the Western World. To Shutt I owe my basic understanding of the Hebrew ideals of compassion and kindness and obedience to law, the Greek ideals of individual excellence and the primacy of reason and the warning against hubris, the Roman ideals of duty to country and pragmatism and tragic sacrifice and guilt as the price of empire, and the Medieval Christian ideals of universal goodwill to all men. Shutt enlightened me as to what it means to be a Westerner, and uncovered a world of heritage to me.
To Joseph J. Ellis, I owe my high regard for the Genius and Humanity of the American Founding Fathers and their unique synthesis of liberal political thought with conservative moral thought. Ellis brought each of the Founders alive for me, and illustrated their lives in such realistic historical narrative that I discerned there has never been a golden age, nor have there been gods among men. But Ellis did reveal to me the sheer excellence which great men in our world are indeed capable of attaining.
I could name other figures who have influenced me in these areas, including but not limited to Ross Douthat, Thomas K. Lindsay, Wilfred McClay, Henry Olsen, Steven Hayward, and many others, but to do so would be superfluous. I owe my thought to many.
I might add, though, that it is not only modern journalists and scholars who have influenced me. Far from it, the writings of such great historical figures as Niccolo Machiavelli, David Hume, Edmund Burke, Alexander Hamilton, George Washington, Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, John Quincy Adams, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, and Winston Churchill have done their share. But that is the subject of another essay entirely.
A subject of yet another essay would be the influence of various institutions in which I participated, such as the Catholic Church, the Boy Scouts of America, the American Legion Boys State program, my family, the public education system, and others on my moral and political thinking. But that, too, will be for another essay.
Thus, I have catalogued a brief listing of those individuals who have most informed my political thought up to the present point. I hope to meet and have coffee with all of these individuals, and work for more than one of them. (The dead excepted….)
And, I hope that one day, I become such a source to another aspiring young writer and political thinker.
I occasionally get asked that magical trap question, “Do you believe women should have equal rights as men?” Upon my answering “Yes!” the questioner immediately congratulates me, “Then you’re a feminist!”
Having no formal training in logic or taxonomy, I am unable to identify the species of this statement, but I can definitely tell that it belongs to the logicalicus fallacious genus. But, to be fair to the feminists, maybe they’re a tad right- by historical standards, I am something of a feminist.
I believe that women are equal to men, and in many cases superior. I believe they ought to have equal rights under the law of any civilized nation. I believe they ought to have equal opportunity in every field of endeavor, from politics to law to medicine to academia to business to labor to service to the creative industries. If they can meet the physical requirements of the U.S. Special Forces, they should be allowed in, and if a religious tradition does not object to their being pastors, they should take that opportunity. I believe in treating women on their merits as individuals, not as members of some underclass perpetually in servitude. And I think the broad majority of Americans would agree with me, and not only agree but put their convictions of gender equality into practice.
So why do I not identify as a feminist, and save myself the stigma of misogyny, the accusations of sexism, and the shame of not being on the “right side of history?”
I have a couple of reasons, but the simplest one is that, as a conservative traditionalist and classical liberal, (or what some would call an “oppressor,”) I simply cannot accept the anti-traditional, anti-empirical, and anti-individualist assertions that modern feminism has picked up. I must stick, with St. Thomas More, to my convictions, even in the face of a public execution in the form of accusations of sexism. I must stand up to represent a silent, non-activist plurality of Americans, who hear the assertions of the feminists and are as appalled as I am.
So here are my reasons.
First, feminism is a form of identity politics at its worst- it values individuals for the facts of their biology rather than on the merits of their character. Nothing can be more dehumanizing, so great an affront to human dignity as this, but the actual stripping of individual rights by violent force. And when such an ideology organizes its followers into a cultural and political consensus, it stands to divide Americans not by differences of opinion, nor by differences of interest, but by differences of biology. In such a divided state, individuals have no choice over the side they choose, for it is decided for them already by an artificial division by gender. In this scenario, the War on Women narrative perpetuates a false gender division in American society and, worse, assigns individuals a partisan political affiliation solely based on their genitalia. Modern feminism thus strips agency from individuals and puts it in the hands of those crafting the narratives, castigating any dissidents as whatever the non-feminist version of an Uncle Tom would be.
Second, feminism relies on scare tactics and misinformation campaigns that would have made Susan B. Anthony roll over in her grave. From phony statistics like seventy-something-cents-to-the-dollar and one-in-five-women-will-be-raped, to demands for affirmative-action-type policies to increase gender equity in male-dominated professions, to aggressive and anti-liberal policies such as California’s new and draconian anti-sexual assault laws that strip the accused of legal recourse, to defense of hoaxes like the infamous Rolling Stone UVA gang rape article, feminists shed the tactics of decency for the tactics of efficiency at any cost. The means, however illiberal and slanderous, are completely justified in the name of the untouchably sacred ends of “equality” and “justice” (defined in some subjective and unattainable sense.) Feminists claim to be “oppressed” and thereby justify radical tactics, excommunicating those not sufficiently pure and excoriating all who stand against them. It all begins to look like any other extremist ideology, but one that eschews violence because it possesses a greater lever of power- major influence in the public debate.
Third, there are indeed differences between men and women; these do not make them unequal, but they do make them different. A trumpet and a saxophone, a trombone and a flute, make two different sounds, and neither is better or worse than the other; each can play the same melody, and paired together they make a more beautiful harmony than either could make on its own. And feminist theory, and gender studies in particular, tend to deny these basic truths of human nature as artificial constructs imposed by a paranoid patriarchy. Everything important is constructed; nothing is real. It is a rejection of reality in the name of subjectivist fantasies and illusions, and when imposed upon public policy it perpetuates gross distortions. Indeed, this reason alone would be sufficient to drive any classically-educated thinker far away from the assertions of feminism. If politics is the managing of human nature, a clear definition of human nature must first be sought; and the feminists, like the radical progressives of earlier decades, view it as more malleable than it is. This is a dangerous idea when put into political practice. It is very possible to believe in equal rights for women without having a distorted view of reality.
Finally, the strongest women in my life are more successful and independent than I am, and they do not identify as feminists. Clearly, then, it is possible for women to be empowered without subscribing to the divisive identity politics of modern feminism. I can’t explain why this is true, but I expect that a large part of it stems from the fact that they reject the cult of victimhood and embrace a concept of individual empowerment that is blind to the politics and sociology of gender. And I respect them for their achievements far more than the mediocre achievements of feminists who claim oppression. One of these individuals is my mother, and she raised me to be a good man, respectful of women, and rejecting the claims of any extremist ideology. Her influence is at least partly to blame for these heresies I now spew forth, though I take full responsibility for holding to them.
Who am I to write on these issues? I, a straight white Catholic man, am purportedly the oppressor of peoples- I, in my very practice of thinking and writing, have constructed the narratives, the words, the ideas, that hold down the downtrodden of the Earth. I am to blame for their oppression, and for the world’s ills. Who am I, then, to write on issues pertaining to the rights of women?
If subjective feeling is the only truth, then clearly I am wrong, and clearly this little essay is objectively merely me perpetuating my own dominion over the marginalized peoples of the Earth (or something like that.) But if there is some objective truth beyond mere perspective, and more fundamental than power- if there is a moral law which it is every human’s duty to stand for, and that moral law is the empowerment of individuals by their own labor and intellect to discern truth as well as they can and defend it in the face of a candid world- if there is some objective truth out there that we human beings cannot ever truly know, but always and in every way can feel- then can I truly be blamed for standing on my conscience by the light of my reason? Or is my heresy sufficient to condemn me to the judgment of history?
That never-ending conversation, my friends, which has endured from the first day humankind rose from the swamp and learned to think, is why I am not a feminist.
Growing up in a deeply conservative Republican household, I always had an interest in politics but I never had a very profound understanding beyond partisan rhetoric. Bill O’Reilly was my hero, and Ronald Reagan was a god among men. Liberals were loons and wanted to destroy America with the power of big government. Life was simple back then.
But when the fallout of the Great Recession sparked a period of political instability after 2008, the emergence of two American populist movements- the Tea Party in 2009, and Occupy Wall Street in 2011- posed daunting questions of political philosophy to the adolescent me. I mark this period, then, as the formative stage of my political education.
First came the Tea Party. I was initially entranced by this grassroots conservative movement, and fell in with it immediately. Its paeans to liberty and denunciations of government appealed to me immensely, and I soon decided to become a true Tea Partier and become acquainted with the works of the Founding Fathers, to discover what they really said and meant.
Of course, the first founder I chanced upon was Alexander Hamilton, and I soon discovered that the Tea Party’s absolute denunciations of government in no way reflected this founder’s- indeed, most of the founders’- actual philosophy. I was disillusioned. I became a political realist of sorts, no longer strongly identifying with the Republican Party but still maintaining my Republican Instincts. Years later I went to a Tea Party rally at the Capitol, complete with a man in stockings and a tricorn hat. The speeches were about as far removed from the actual rhetoric of the Founders as I had discovered they would be years before.
Around the time I was reading Hamilton, the Occupy Wall Street movement sparked up in New York City. I was immediately turned off by it, disgusted by its utopian denunciations of inequality and unfairness. My instincts as a tragic political realist sharpened, and I crowed at the populist masses who dared protest something as natural as nature itself.
Some friends of mine back in Seattle started going to Occupy Seattle rallies, and I thought therefore it would be good to familiarize myself with the movement personally. I was living near DC then so I went to the Occupy DC camp at McPherson Square, and spoke with some of the inhabitants. I found a group of people earnest in their beliefs, and though I disagreed with their more radical ideas I generally found them to be ordinary people with typical concerns.
My brief flirtation wih and subsequent rejection of the Tea Party taught me not to fear government, but to request its efficiency; my disgust with the Occupy movement engendered in me a loathing of popular unrest, but a conviction that the sources and causes of that unrest must be fought vigorously by government. These experiences helped solidify two of my basic political instincts- that government is not a necessary evil but a positive good when efficient and limited, and that it is the duty of government to work to make things better for the masses of the people. In an era of anti-government Republicans and big-government Democrats, both in bed with Wall Street, I did not (and still do not) fit easily into any conventional political categories.
As my political self-education continued, I discovered that there was, indeed, a tradition in American history, now defunct, that represented the basic ideas and convictions I shared. Over time I began identifying as a Hamiltonian and as a Progressive Republican.
The Hamiltonian side of my political conscience dictates that government ought neither limit itself severely nor grow so monstrous as to be cumbersome, but instead must make strategic investments to promote broad-based economic growth while maintaining order, security, and representative accountability. It ought to be centralized where necessary and decentralized where possible. Above all things, the national interest of greatness and the provision of opportunities for entrepreneurial individuals are the two most crucial ends of governance.
Along with this emphasis on the nature of the state, the Progressive Republican side of my political conscience dictates what must be done when a government and society has decayed, as has ours. The stranglehold plutocrats have over governance must be fought vigorously if representative and efficient government for the people is to be maintained. Meanwhile, governance itself is to be modernized for the times, opening as many possibilities and opportunities to individuals in a liberal society as is possible while maintaining a basic quality of life. Progressive Republicanism is very much about reform.
My political philosophy is basically a mix of these Hamiltonian and Progressive Republican impulses, with some other things thrown in the mix. Of the two principles of Progressive Republicanism- efficient governance and anti-plutocratic crusading- it seems that the two populist movements of my youth, the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street, embody popular frustration with the current malaise in both of those areas.
In a sense, then, the Tea Party and the Occupy Wall Street movement were and are both correct about the ills facing American society. But neither a radical right nor a radical left approach can remedy those ills. In my opinion, only the relatively centrist yet reformist Progressive Republican ideas can do that.
There are two potential presidential candidates out there, I think, who embody these reformist impulses. On the left, representing the passions of Occupy Wall Street, is the centrist-populist Democratic Senator Jim Webb. On the right, representing the passions of the Tea Party, is the Republican Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. Walker, in his denunciations of and attacks on bloated government programs and unions in his home state, and Webb, in his appeals to middle-class growth and Jacksonian anti-elitism, embody the two areas of reform our country sorely needs right now. Unfortunately, I don’t think either is going to get their party’s nomination, nor do I think either will be the next President of the United States. But their influence over the debate is worth thinking of at least.
With luck, the reformist passions currently floating around the radical wings of the Right and Left will soon consolidate under a centrist progressive movement, capable of executing necessary reforms and uniting the country. Under such a regime, we would see a truly grand new era in American politics and history.
But I’m not holding my breath or anything.
I never thought I’d say this, but I think it’s time we pass an anti-discrimination law mandating equal pay for men and women working at the same job- even though I don’t think the “Gender Pay Gap” exists to the degree feminist activists tend to assume.
My reason? Proving to the feminist activists that the “Gender Pay Gap” is due not to discrimination on the part of male employers, but to current demographic differences in employment. For various reasons, including physiology, men tend to hold more physically demanding jobs than women, which tend to be higher paid than less physically demanding jobs. Men on average also tend to hold more advanced degrees- and thus the high-paying jobs that are available only to the holders of advanced degrees- than women, though that appears to be changing. The 70-cents-to-the-dollar statistic is found by comparing all male jobs to all female jobs, rather than comparing men and women who are working in the same jobs. And typically, when men and women’s wages in the same job are compared, the wage gap all but disappears.
Is there injustice here? I don’t think anyone would argue that it’s a societal injustice that more men work in heavy skilled labor than women (though some might call that a natural injustice.) There is definitely some injustice in there being fewer women in advanced-degree holder jobs, and the solution to that problem is encouraging more and more talented women to get advanced degrees and enter those jobs.
The solution to the “Gender Pay Gap,” if there needs be one, is therefore not to raise women’s wages, but to encourage more women to enter higher-paying jobs.
Suppose that in certain circumstances, women are indeed paid less than men for doing the same job. In every such case, there is most definitely discrimination that deserves legal recourse. And the employer paying women less than men is being a complete schmuck, perpetuating a great injustice, and not deserving the respect of any breathing human being. Such miscreants ought to be treated as criminals and forced to comply with the social norm of equal pay.
So let’s pass a law making sure that in those occasions, justice is served. But I predict that the legal community will discover very few of those occasions, because those occasions are only very rarely there.
In short, an Equal Pay Law would be a band-aid, meant more to make people feel good than to remedy the actual inequities resulting in the “Gender Pay Gap.” In fact, it would have a very interesting side-effect; after such a law was passed, studies on gender wage parity conducted in the same way as the study which birthed the 70-cent statistic will reveal that there is still a gender wage gap, even though employers would by then be required by law to pay women as much as they pay men. Perhaps then, the feminists would begin focusing on the actual solution- not fighting against injustice, but fighting for the empowerment of women, encouraging more and more young women to enter professional fields and make higher salaries and be more socially prominent.
And if such a circumstance were to come to pass, and feminists were to fight only for empowerment rather than also against injustice in the context of employment, they would soon discover that their end goals were no different than those of non-feminists like conservatives and moral traditionalists. They would discover that equal pay for equal work is the current reality of things, and that encouraging people to do better work, encouraging women to enter the commanding heights of power, is more effective for accomplishing the end of eliminating the “Gender Wage Gap” than passing a wage equity law.
So, my fellow conservatives, we have before us a grand opportunity to humiliate the feminists, by giving them exactly what they want. Let’s all get behind a national Equal Pay Law, and in so doing both mop up whatever few cases of pay inequity currently actually exist, and show the feminists that they’ve been believing in fudged facts this whole time. There are no negative side-effects to an equal pay law (unless you’re a paranoid libertarian) and only good benefits- winning a chip against the War on Women rhetoric of the Left, and proving to feminists that they’ve been wrong on one of their central issues for years.
And feminists, did you hear that? I’m now on the record as supporting an Equal Pay Law. Come at me.
I’ve been a hypocrite. I’ve been working for an organization called “No Labels,” which works to bring politicians in Washington D.C. across the aisle to talk to each other and build shared solutions. It aims to promote dialogue between otherwise polarized ideological camps, with an aim of forging a bipartisan consensus and a new politics of problem-solving. It’s really a beautiful thing.
And in politics, I subscribe to this mentality completely. Politics shouldn’t be about warring factions, it should be about differing factions that negotiate solutions together.
Yet in the field of culture, I have been a partisan culture warrior. I have been taking snipes at activists from my traditionalist standpoint, while never bothering to take the time to sit down with those with significantly different views from my own. I have been betraying the No Labels mentality.
Further, I have recently realized that this kind of echo-chamber thinking results in a further polarization between people of different camps whose fundamental goals are very likely more similar than we might think. I’m undermining potential dialogues by failing to sit down with activists.
I’m also betraying the Progressive Republican tradition. Back in the 60s and 70s, the last remnants of the Progressive Republicans sat down with social justice advocates to talk about the issues, even talking to radicals and gang members. Meanwhile, the Conservative Republicans merely trashed these groups as opponents and enemies of law and order. Though the Progressive and Conservative Republicans shared similar culturally conservative views, the Progressive Republicans were more conciliatory and able to build constructive change while still standing on conservative principles. The Progressive Republicans are gone now, and as such, few Republicans sit down with activists to talk about social issues that really are relevant to everybody.
And furthermore, I don’t think the fundamental differences between my progressive traditionalist thought and activist thought are sufficiently gaping to preclude some shared goals. I stand for equality of opportunity, the dignity and power of every person, and the gradual but progressive removal of barriers to individual success in all fields- and I think most of the activists I typically oppose would support these same goals, albeit by very different tactics.
But how can we find out?
By talking to each other. After all, one of the great blessings of Western Civilization has been its tendency towards liberalism and the tolerance of ideologically polarized belief systems. It hasn’t always been perfect, and some have been excluded from such tolerance, while at other times the excesses of ideological zeal have completely overcome the doctrine of toleration. But generally, more than any other culture on Earth, Western Civilization as a whole has tolerated dissent without treading all over the rights of the dissenters. And thus discussion and dialogue between opposing camps is not merely a privilege we possess; it is indeed the heritage of Western Civilization, and we live that heritage by partaking in it.
Therefore, I invite activists of all stripes to sit down and have coffee with me-I’m buying. We can discuss the various great issues of the day, and the philosophical and theoretical approaches by which we interpret them. The point would not be re-education or missionary conversion of each other to the other’s beliefs. The point would be fostering a deeper understanding of each other’s points of view, both to make arguments more accurate and to perhaps to expand each other’s views of how reality works. But more important than anything would be the coming together of opposed camps to talk about potential shared solutions.
The culture wars aren’t going to stop, and they shouldn’t. And we’re not going to stop posting incendiary articles about each other’s political thought, nor should we. BUT, we CAN have a deeper understanding and a better relationship, and possibly avenues for future cooperation- should we choose to talk and not to fight.
Therefore, all activists, and indeed anyone with views different from or similar to mine- let’s sit down and have coffee. Maybe we’ll learn from each other.
There are plenty of reasons to not want Hillary Clinton to win the Presidency next year, but in my opinion, ideology and experience don’t fall under that category.
In terms of experience, Clinton has been in Washington for something like three decades, holding a variety of positions in different parts of the government. She’s about as experienced as they come (with a single exception- she’s never been Governor of a state.) Many of our great presidents, including Lincoln, entered office with far less experience. I’m not implying that Clinton will be our next Lincoln, of course. But the inexperience charges being leveled against her are completely unfair.
Then there’s ideology. One thing is for sure- she’s not a loony liberal. As a center-right moderate, I actually don’t think Hillary Clinton would be very bad, ideologically speaking, as President of the United States. She’s recently began making paeans to the middle class and the gospel of opportunity, implying a reasonably centrist economic persuasion. She’s known for being a hawk on foreign policy, but a more reserved hawk than the neocons of the Bush years- so there’s a good chance she has some strategic thinking in her head. Socially she’s liberal, which can be annoying to moderates like me, but that’s not a huge concern. I wouldn’t call her a Centrist- I’d call her an establishment Democrat.
Now, Clinton being an establishment Democrat is good reason not to want her for President, but it’s not a very powerful argument. It carries the same weight as not wanting Jeb Bush to be President because he’s an establishment Republican. In both cases, the candidate as President would not be particularly innovative, though they would provide stability and regime continuity. We would just get more of the same, in an era when we need a fresh face.
And that is the first argument I have against a Clinton Presidency- President Clinton would not be a particularly fresh face on the Washington scene. We need a reformer who can take on the two great challenges of our time- a decadent bureaucracy and an ascendant plutocracy- and forge a more representative and more efficient government capable of preserving the opportunity for a better life for all Americans. The Democratic Senator Jim Webb personifies the kind of populist action necessary for fighting the financial power in politics, while the Republican Governor Scott Walker exemplifies the political moxie necessary to reform bureaucratic governance. If we could find a candidate mixing these two strands of thought, that would be ideal. But one thing is for certain- Hillary Clinton, the favorite of Wall Street and a union Democrat, is not that candidate.
But there is another, far pettier reason to oppose a President Clinton, or rather to oppose the clamor for a President Clinton.
Her supporters tend to imply that her womanhood is an excellent qualification.
Quite simply, I oppose identity politics in every form, though I understand that the impetus for it arises from a deep-rooted facet of our imperfect human nature. What I cannot fathom, however, is the modern embrace of this primitivism- this postmodern insistence on dividing people into ethnic and gender tribes based upon facts of biology, and insisting that the political representation of such tribes is the true mark of justice in a society. Colorblindness and gender equality have gone out the window as tirades against lingering white male privilege have come to dominate political and cultural discourse. Merit ceases to be of value; blood and genes assume a paramount center stage. People become valuable in the eyes of the postmodern because of what they are, not who they are. Rarely has so vicious an assault on human dignity been so deeply institutionalized in the public groupthink.
And thus the feminist supporters of a President Hillary Clinton clamor that her victory would be symbolic, a step in the direction of true equality for women everywhere. They argue that a President Hillary Clinton would prove to all of them that they, too, can be equal to men.
I have two primary objections to this logic.
First off, I definitely think it’s possible for a woman to win the Presidency in today’s world, and I think it’s crucial that women enter into positions of power, provided that they earn their way there. I believe in the equality of women and men, and I believe that we will have a female president in the very near future. I don’t see the oppression so many feminists claim keeps them down. Is there inequality and unequal representation at the moment? Yes, but that’s not because women are being held down- it’s because the movement toward women’s empowerment that broke off institutionalized restrictions of female power began a relatively short time ago in historical time, and it takes a long, long time for grand historical changes such as that one to reach their full and final effects. So when feminists claim that the unequal representation of women in social and economic and political positions in today’s world is the pernicious work of men like me building “institutionalized oppression” or “structural violence” or something of the sort, I cringe.
But there’s a more important reason than that.
To kowtow to petty identity politics right now, in this historical moment- to vote for Hillary because of her biology rather than because of her ideas- to insist upon the historic nature of the first female President of the United States, rather than upon the cruciality of having a strong, charismatic reformer in the Oval Office in 2016- is to irresponsibly carry out one’s responsibility as a citizen. We can’t be playing games now. A host of draconian structural imbalances besets us at home, and a more literal host of murky shadows threatens us abroad. This is not the time for political games and petty posturing. It is a time for fine statecraft and good citizenship. We can’t squander it with juvenile reasons for voting such as, as I’ve heard it put many times, “wanting a President who looks like us.”
When we do have our first female President, I hope to god that she’s the right woman for the right moment. But everything I’ve read and heard about Hillary Clinton tells me that she is not the right woman for this moment of American history. The statesman or stateswoman we need will be a reformer, not an entrenched legacy politician. We need fresh ideas and fresh faces. And, regardless of what her supporters argue, I don’t think Hillary is that woman.
I should have been able to write this article entirely focusing on Clinton’s ideas, and not on her identity as a woman. But because her supporters insist on her womanhood as one of their reasons for supporting her, I have been forced to argue against that.
Until I can write an article comparing a male and female politician solely on the merits of their ideas and charisma, without referencing either one’s intrinsic higher value due to their gender, we as a society have not reached gender neutrality. But may the day that we reach it come sooner rather than later.
Nothing bugs me more than when my fellow Christians and conservatives complain about how oppressed we are. Look at what happens to Christians elsewhere; we’re not oppressed. Life is unfair for us in certain particular ways but we’re not oppressed. We’re all free to enjoy a reasonably high standard of living and participate politically. By world historical standards, that is the antithesis of oppression.
Same thing with most other groups that claim oppression and victimization about everything, including feminists, LGBT groups, and minority activists groups of various stripes. Things are indeed unfair and could use reform. There are some rights not possessed, some inequalities requiring remedy, and some reforms necessary. But oppression is a very different thing.
Oppression is political suppression and exclusion, the systematic deprivation of basic life and liberty, and the conscious perpetuation of intolerable standards of living. It is not mere economic inequality, it is not the existence of opinions and voices that perpetuate narratives contrary to one’s own liking, and it is not corruption and inefficiency in the system of law and order. Oppression is far more sinister than those. Look to the lawless borderlands of the Middle East and Africa or the darkened halls of Russia and China- there you will find oppression. Look to the plight of blacks in the American South before the 1960s. Look to these- there oppression lies.
But we have slowly rooted out oppression from the American shores, and what a journey it has been. Now, in America, all men and women are free. We have not destroyed injustice- and we never will, though we must always try- but we have eliminated oppression from our system. The grave injustices still present- the plights of inner-city blacks and poor rural whites, the sad condition of undocumented immigrants, the accumulation of plutocratic power at the expense of the democratic spirit- these cannot be forgotten and must be combated with all due force and vigor.
But they are not oppression.
Anarchy begets oppression, for anarchy must be stopped and sheer force is the easiest solution. Consolidated power in any field begets oppression, as power consolidated faces no checks against its excesses. A fair penchant of centralized order mixed with a separation of centers of power is the surest guard against both tyranny and anarchy; it is that magic combination which we English-speaking peoples have been blessed to know for the last 500 years of our history, and have worked to progressively make better. It is that which has shooed away oppression, and that which has preserved our freedom.
Here’s the litmus test: If you can observe something that’s unfair, and you can speak out publicly against it, and take meaningful political action against it, you are not being oppressed. And I’d say that although there are many injustices in American society today, at the public level, there is no oppression save for that against criminals and traitors. And that oppression is called justice.
We do not live in oppression; nor do we live in liberty. To live in liberty requires a level of public self-discipline and social capital that our entitled, victimized, success-worshipping culture does not have; we are slaves to our passions. But, there being an absence of true oppression, we DO live in freedom. And for now, that’s enough.
Is privilege a thing? Of course it is. Is injustice a thing? It’s everywhere. Do we have a corrupt ruling elite and high levels of inequality? You’d have to be blind not to see them.
But are we oppressed?
No. Thanks to the enduring viability of our political tradition of liberty, the sweat of statesmen, and the blood of patriots, we live as free men and women, oppressed by no king. Indeed, there are those with powers over us; but they do not oppress us.
It is the task of our generation to reform our political system to maintain our freedom against the shadows of oppression always lurking at the gate. But it is the further task of our generation to reform our society to one of liberty- and that, in truth, is the far mightier challenge.
And fighting oppression when oppression is not there only distracts from that grander purpose.