In between our last two posts I went to Drudge to see what was happening in the world. The lead story was about a ship disaster in the Red Sea. From the headline picture, it looked like a cruise ship. I therefore assumed that some people very much like the Americans I went cruising with last year were the victims. I went to the news story. A couple of sentences in, I learned that the ship was in fact a ferry, the victims all Egyptians. I lost interest at once, and stopped reading. I don’t care about Egyptians. ~John Derbyshire, The Corner
Exactly. Just as all the bleeding-heart appeals for the people of Darfur and Iraq mean so little to me. They have frankly never made any sense to me. We are all moved in times of cataclysmic natural disasters to render aid, but this is something all together different from pretending that we are deeply concerned with the welfare of Sudanese. We are not, we cannot really be, and when we pretend that we are we are lying to ourselves and to the people with whom we supposedly sympathise.
We usually consider it normal to be fairly unconcerned about the fate of strangers even in our own metropolitan areas, which might be less justifiable, but modern humanitarian politics dictate that we must be deeply moved and compelled by the suffering of people, with whom we have no connections, on other continents. Derb’s reaction is perfectly natural and normal, and confirms what Dr. Fleming has had to say about natural affinities, charity and the “pornography of compassion.”
Then there’s this, which may interest some of you:
The promise of the “highest” form of classical liberalism, though — the promise that tribalism, nationalism, etc. will melt away in the sun of Reason, the promise that inspired early 20C socialists and one-worlders like Shaw and Wells — is an empty promise. To the degree that Reason can be identified with scientific method, in fact (discuss among yourselves), the windsocks are all pointing the other way.
Which is to say, if we press on a little more, that the promise of Mr. Bush’s brand of “conservatism” is an empty promise, and that many of the promises of the Enlightenment project are also simply empty. Most people not, in the end, want to be free in a high classical liberal way, though they may think that autonomy sounds very good because it keeps them from having to fulfill all sorts of obligations.
If most men are so badly suited for it, or respond so anemically to its appeal, why should we think that it corresponds very well with our nature? There might be a Christian or Platonic explanation for why men’s inclinations and the Good do not coincide, but liberalism assumes that it is the natural inclination of man to desire the Good as imagined by liberalism. If man does not naturally desire this, except in the sense that he desires a “freedom” for his passions to run amok, it follows pretty directly that the liberal conception of freedom is not natural.
The rationality of classical liberalism and its basic justification rest on the proposition that it correctly understands human nature, which is that man is born free in a very specific sense (and not that he is born with free will, which is something else, but that he is autonomous and sovereign). All constraints on him with which he does not agree are “unnatural”–that is the understanding. Christians, among others, know that this is false, so why do so many continue to dance around liberal definitions of freedom and equality as if they were sacred totems?