Friday, December 17, 2010

The Adolescent Left

I am always a little taken aback by behavior coming from supposedly mature statesmen that seems more like that of a teenager. Case in point is the Democratic reaction to keeping the Bush tax rates in place. Anthony Weiner's reaction to the President's tax compromise on Fox News perhaps best illustrates the point. There was much talk of millionaires getting to keep the tax rate, but no serious talk about the morality of our current tax system. The American Thinker today has an article by Keith Riler entitled The Adolescent Left that explains, at least in part, why this is so. If the past four years have seemed like we have a bunch of children running our country, it may be because we have had exactly that.

Riler first talks about the meaning of freedom:

By disordered freedom, I mean the 1960s-influenced, "don't tell me what to do/I'll do whatever the hell I want to do" kind of freedom. Pope John Paul II summarized the flaw in such a stunted and animalistic view of our potential when he explained that "[f]reedom is not a matter of doing what we like, but rather of having the right to do what we ought."

Theologian Servais Pinckaers elaborates further with the example of a novice piano student. Unless that piano student submits himself to the rigors of study and practice, against which he could certainly rebel at any time, that student will never become a maestro. The same can be said about humans and the attainment of our full potential through the voluntary submission to ethics, morality, and responsibility (against which we may certainly rebel at any time). This responsible freedom clearly contrasts with a hormonal adolescent's "don't tell me what to do" outbursts.
I have meant to talk about this aspect of freedom precisely as it touches on the very heart of what has become of the state our arts. So much passes for art these days that is, frankly, the acting out of spoiled brats against their parents; it is a hoax. Since when is art supposed to shock and offend the prevailing culture? While some historians think the Impressionist painters were rebelling against the older Academic style, I think it had to do more with advances in technology. They had more pigments, and photography was new. In drama, Hollywood has taken to remaking older films, True Grit being the latest. As a young man, I loved poetry, but I can't think of any today that is being produced that is worth putting pen to paper. It all seems to by lyrical, written in obscure private languages where words have no real meaning, or any meaning you want to place on them, without recognizable metric patterns or rhyming schemes. The state of our art scene reflects the state of our society. Too many people want to get to expressing...whatever it is they want to express...without first going through the arduous task of learning the craft, and what has gone before.

Although less obvious, the liberal affection for the hypocrisy charge reveals a strong desire for disordered freedom. By charging hypocrisy, the adolescent libertine's goal is to avoid ever having to hear a moral norm (i.e., "you should"). This is an understandable quest for any fan of a serial adulterer and liar like Bill Clinton, but no normal thoughtful adult would agree that only those who are perfect should establish rules of conduct or the corollary -- that unless perfect rule-makers can be found, no norms should be established.

Put differently, should we really prevent an alcoholic from cautioning others about drinking or a parent from advising his children not to lie? Both the alcoholic and the parent are hypocritical in that each is guilty of the sin against which he cautions, but both are to be commended for their advice. In this light, the clear point of the left's oft-utilized hypocrisy charge is to silence adult commentary so as to permit unchaperoned moral chaos.
I am vulnerable to the charge of hypocrisy, as are we all, I think. I have made mistakes that I don't want my grand children to repeat. Traditions, properly applied, tell us what has worked in the past, and more importantly, what has not. But for the grace of God, I might be dead or rotting in jail.   But, we have the ability to pass on what we have learned to the next generation.  Indeed, we can look over nearly 5,000 years of history. It is a unique ability not possessed by any other creature on earth. It is both a blessing and a curse, like so many things in this world. but seems stupid in the extreme to throw all that away simply because you are rebelling against your parents.

Ok, so what wisdom would I pass on?  Just this, that our Founding Fathers largely got it right.  They were flawed men, all of them.  But they somehow managed to distill out of history a new thing that works.  Marx, on the other hand, got it horribly wrong.  "By their fruits you will know them."  The Constitution, when applied as written, works.  Socialism, Communism, Fascism, etc do not work.  Following the Constitution takes study, thought, and rigorous discipline.  It is the essence of freedom defined as having the right to do what we ought.

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