Posted on November 29, 2012
Leftism since the French Revolution has engaged in one big emancipation project, what Kenneth Minogue terms in his always insightful, sometimes dazzling, The Servile Mind: How Democracy Erodes the Moral Life, “the oppression-liberation nexus.” The Leftist religion has become one of clawing for the liberation of humanity from every tyranny — real or imagined: the secularists must be emancipated from the religionists, the parishioners from the clergy, the enlightened from the unenlightened, the citizens from royalty, the poor from the rich, the workers from the capitalists, blacks from whites, women from men, wives from husbands, children from parents, debtors from creditors, employees from employers, homosexuals from heterosexuals, convicts from law-abiding citizens, and soon, if the trajectory persists, polygamists from monogamists and pedophiles from prison guards. The Great Emancipation now extends even to non-human nature: the emancipation of “the environment” from a rapacious humanity.
That some forms of emancipation are entirely warranted (the emancipation of blacks from slavery and from legal inequality comes immediately to mind) lends credibility to the entire Leftist emancipation project in the eyes of fair-minded Westerners. After all, who wants to be against freedom — any freedom?
Moreover, because the Bible itself advocates holy liberation (1 Pet. 2:16), one might point to the Magna Carta (emancipating citizens from an arbitrary crown) and the Protestant Reformation (emancipating Christians from suffocating legalists) as valid emancipations. God himself is in the emancipation business: “If the Son therefore shall make you free, you shall be free indeed” (Jn. 8:36).
Leftists, however, have abstracted emancipation from other virtues and transformed it into an overriding principle that dwarfs other concerns. Emancipation (and the ever-elusive status it confers, equality) is all that matters.
But emancipation costs. Emancipation in a social context is usually a zero-sum game: there are negative social consequences to every emancipatory act. The emancipation of Protestants broke — and should have broken — the monopoly of the Roman Church. The freeing of the slaves in the Civil War harmed — and should have harmed — the Southern, slave-based economy. Emancipation is never free.
Leftist emancipation projects are always costly: wives are emancipated from husbands — and from the tender provision and outright chivalry that the hierarchical husband fosters. Homosexuals are emancipated from the inconvenience of social marginalization — and traditional marriage (= marriage) gradually becomes obsolete. The secularists are emancipated from a Christian legal code — but it is increasingly hard to justify freedom itself on secular grounds. Employees are emancipated from the whims of employers — but collective hard bargaining (by unions) drives many businesses to move to another country and leave employees jobless. Leftists are not concerned with this social damage, which is, after all, collateral damage, justified in the great crusade of emancipation. In the aphorism of V. I. Lenin, “If you want to make an omelet, you must be willing to break a few eggs.” Social egalitarianism is a big omelet, and you need to break lots of eggs to make it.
Whenever Leftists see a hierarchical social arrangement, they increasingly see the need for an emancipation project. In the end, they must have a power strong enough to enforce these projects, and in the modern world that power is the state. So, to emancipate children from parents, Leftists need the abolition of parental notification laws (in the case of girls’ abortion). To emancipate debtors from creditors, they need broad bankruptcy laws. To emancipate homosexuals from heterosexuals, they need the legalization of same-sex marriage. To emancipate parishioners from the clergy, they need laws forbidding churches to exclude immoral members. The coercive arm of the state destroys hierarchies; it does the bidding of the emancipators. The fact that the state in this way incrementally arrogates to itself massive power — much greater power than the alleged oppressors whose authority it strips in its emancipatory crusades — seems never to become evident until it is too late to stop it. “To destroy the nexus of trust,” writes Minogue,
to treat authority as if it were no different from oppression, is to diminish one of the major resources of Western life, leaving us unprotected against a more brutish world in which the state claims to save us from the oppressions of social authority. (p. 297)
The state is potentially much more oppressive than an employer or husband or creditor ever could be.
The Genealogy of Emancipation Projects
The first emancipation project ever was the emancipation of Satan from God’s authority (Is. 14:12–15). The first in human history was Adam and Eve from God’s authority (Gen. 3:1–7). Lucifer traded away an eternity of joyous service to the great God of heaven for an independence that ends in eternal hellfire (Rev. 20:10). Our first parents traded away loving submission to the Lord God for the fruit (literally) of guilt-inducing, blame-shifting, paradise-polluting autonomy (Gen. 3:9–24). Not all forms of emancipation are pleasant.
One wishes our Leftist friends would learn this truth.