24 November 2004

I'm Not Orthodox—I'm Reform!

And I'm not referring to religion. Or, rather, I'm not referring to just religion.

As I've tried to make clear over the last year and a half here, I can respect the opinions of those who do not share mine. Dissent is the foundational value in any republic, democracy, democratic republic… basically, any governmental form that does not embrace some form of totalitarianism. That's why I can respect the Perfesser and his opinions, even when I disagree with them: His work embraces the value of dissent. However much we disagree with each other's views on specific issues, we do not translate that disagreement into contempt. One cannot say the same thing about many other denizens of the blogosphere (and blawgosphere); the drudgery of some sources is obvious even from the name, although the problems with certain other law professors based a bit to the southeast of here whose sites tend to the supercilious soundbite instead of analysis are not quite so obvious.

This reflects why I am emphatically not a Democrat. Leave aside that it was inappropriate for me to have (or profess) a party affiliation while I was a commissioned officer, which would have kept me out of the party for my "first career." The problem that I have with the Democrats—and the Republicans, and the Libertarians—is that the factions are collections of other factions, each of which tries to enforce substantive orthodoxy. Consider, for example, the Model-T Rainbow Coalition branch of the Democrats ("You can get your ethnic/racial equality doctrine in any color you want, as long as you're black"). Or, better yet, don't; because that kind of racism is more than just hypocritical. In any event, it leads to "race-based" or "race-conscious" admissions, hiring, and promotion policies that bear little resemblance to reality. Contrast a melaninically enhanced graduate of a top public high school (if that's not too much of an oxymoron) trying to get into a top college with an equally gifted white-trash resident of Appalachia. Needless to say, this comparison reveals unorthodoxy, and not widely accepted among many of those whose views I otherwise accept.

Enforcement of substantive orthodoxy is not appropriate in politics, particularly in political systems that embrace dissent. That is a religious function; and, if the history of Europe, the Middle East, India, and the Americas in the last two thousand years teaches anything, it is that religion and politics don't mix in self-sustaining societies. The only orthodoxy that really has any place in political discourse concerns procedure, such as the appropriate role of the rule of law. There is a huge distinction between arguing over the substance of the law as it applies to certain types of situations and enforcing a single orthodox postulate of that substance as the only acceptable representation of reality. There is an equally huge distinction between arguing over the substance of the law as it applies to certain types of situations and arguing over the degree to which preformulated legal rules must be applied to those situations. The former is a religious debate incapable of resolution by reason and evidence alone; the latter is political. I reject the former and embrace the latter.

This is what makes the so-called "religious right" so dangerous. It's not just disagreeable political values so often espoused by these nutcases; those I can argue with/against or even (on rare occasions) agree with. It's the warping of the argument to enforce substantive orthodoxy, such as efforts to slip "inscrutable design" or creationism or whatever into public-school curricula; to "allow" school prayer (which in practical terms, especially from the perspective of the dissenter, means "force"); to anthropomorphize "disagreeable" views into personified evil. The nicest thing I can say about this kind of nonsense is that it is intellectually dishonest and hypocritical. Given that "first career," I have much nastier things to say about it, with specific examples in mind (including dead people); the best examples are not for public consumption, but they put names and faces on this particular reification of evil in a way denied by the "religious right." The irony that the "religious right" would have been perfectly at home in the Stalinist Soviet Union of the 1930s is usually completely lost upon the most extreme proponents.

For that matter, just about anything that might indicate fallibility is lost on those most extreme proponents; but that's an argument that can never go anywhere, because it is infinitely reflexive. OK, you can all go and pluck your turkeys now.