A couple of weeks ago, in lamenting the future generations of Americans that will be forced to shoulder the burden of our government’s fiscal irresponsibility, Sarah Palin likened their condition to one of slavery. MSNBC host Martin Bashir blasted her for her “rank ignorance.” Moreover, he suggested that she deserved to undergo the same brutal punishment as that dished out to a couple of Jamaican slaves in the eighteenth century.
Palin, Bashir contended, deserved to have someone urinate and defecate in her mouth.
Last week, after pressure was brought to bear upon his employer, Bashir expressed regret over his remarks.
If ever there were any doubts that conversation truly is a lost art, Bashir should dispel them once and for all.
Those wise men of the eighteenth century Anglo world knew all too well that a Republic of liberty is impossible unless its citizens were “conversible.” That is, unless the members of a “free society” were educated in those virtues essential to conversation, liberty would promise to perish from the Earth, for unlike the subjects of tyrants who labor under coercion, conversation is the coin in which free citizens trade.
Yet conversation is possible only between men and women who are mutually truthful, respectful, and, in short, civil. Just as importantly, to prevent a conversation from degenerating into a monologue or a cacophony, the partners in a conversation must be willing to listen to one another.
Not only is conversation indispensable to a liberty-loving people. Conversation is an analogue to liberty. Indeed, insofar as it disperses power and authority among several different branches and levels of government, allowing each its own “voice,” so to speak, it is with justice that the politics signified by our Constitution can be said to be a politics of conversation.
The Constitution is as formidable an obstacle to tyrants and utopians everywhere as any set of political arrangementsis anywhere.
And it is this fact that reveals the impossibility of engaging tyrants and utopians in conversation: there can be no conversation with those who insist upon everyone’s speaking in the same voice.
This brings us back to Martin Bashir.
Slavery was a trans-racial, trans-cultural, universal institution as old as humanity itself. Furthermore, its immorality stems solely from its essence, from the fact that slavery consists in human beings owning human beings. Bashir is either ignorant of these truths or he deliberately tried to obscure them. Either way, inexcusable ignorance and dishonesty are both vices without which ideologues can never hope to advance their dreams.
They also constitute bad faith, thus rendering conversation impossible.
Bashir is no tyrant, but he and his fellow leftist ideologues are most certainly utopians. This, of course, doesn’t necessarily mean that they have some grand, comprehensive scheme of the world that they’d like to see implemented. It need only mean that if they aren’t utopian in outline, they are nevertheless utopian in detail: Bashir and company are convinced that there isn’t a problem that individual liberty—“negative liberty”—didn’t cause and for which a more centralized, more powerful government isn’t the solution.
The Constitution is a standing impediment to the designs of the Bashirs of the world.
And this as well explains why they have no use for conversation.
It is not by accident that for at least the last two centuries, what we today would call “the left”—radicals or “political metaphysicians,” as Edmund Burke referred to the philosophes of the French Revolution—have, to some extent or other, embraced violence for their ideological purposes. After all, it is the radical who needs a large and powerful government to force his ideology upon a people who either have rejected it or would reject it if left to their own devices.
Liberty and conversation preclude force or coercion.
This explains why there can be neither liberty nor conversation with ideologues laboring under delusions of grandeur.
Jack Kerwick received his doctoral degree in philosophy from Temple University. His area of specialization is ethics and political philosophy. He is a professor of philosophy at several colleges and universities in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Jack blogs at Beliefnet.com: At the Intersection of Faith & Culture. Contact him at email@example.com or friend him on facebook. You can also follow him on twitter.
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