I have to say it's been a long time since I read an essay as ornerily brilliant as Kenneth Anderson's in the current Weekly Standard. It will offend a lot of people - for all the right reasons. It's a liberal (in the old sense) critique of Huckabee's bigotry, Romney's cynicism, leftist multiculturalism and Hitchensian atheism. And yes, it's a defense of good-old liberalism: the notion that there is a critical distinction between the private and public spheres, that religious doctrines, in so far as they directly impinge upon public policy, are not beyond rational inspection, but that prudence (remember that virtue?) requires a civic balancing act between religious intolerance and the mindless multiculturalism that embraces all religions as equally valid. The essay is too complex and multi-faceted to summarize too quickly but this is the point that resonated with me most:
The firm demand of the state for conformity to neutral standards is what--contrary to the claims of the multiculturalists--provides the grounds of liberal toleration. There are many reasons, but the simplest is this: Taken together, the demands of religious groups for ever stronger and expansive special accommodations must eventually result in profound and antagonistic standoffs and conflicts. Indeed, we have gone too far with special accommodations for religions that depart from neutral governance.
The Christianists on the right and the multiculturalists on the left have combined to tarnish, destroy and delegitimize this notion of neutral governance. It may be difficult, extremely difficult, to achieve it in a pluralist modern world. But if we give up even trying to find a neutral, rational discourse in tackling our problems and engaging our politics, we will have entered down a path that will, in the end, extinguish liberal democracy.
I fear we are already far-gone, which is partly why I am drawn to Obama because he seems uniquely able to embody this old liberal balance. Forging a path between religious doctrine and identity politics is, to my mind, the great challenge we now face. (It is the subtext of my book, "Virtually Normal," which tried, and clearly failed, to chart a new politics of reason and public neutrality with respect to homosexuality.) That's why it is such a relief to finally hear some words of caution from the right with respect to religious politics - and the bullshit Romney shoveled as a way both to disown it and exploit it at the same time.
I'm sorry it took the Huckabee-Romney spat to wake them up. But at least a few are finally opening their eyes.
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