Paladino on Today: the dilemma of the instinctive conservative in liberal society

Carl Paladino talking about homosexuality is like Pamela Geller talking about Islam.
  • On an instinctive level Paladino knows that there’s something wrong with homosexuality and he says so, telling a Hassidic congregration yesterday that homosexuality is not “an equally valid and successful option” with heterosexuality, just as on an instinctive level Geller knows that there’s something wrong with Islam and she says so, telling the New York Times, in clear and uncompromising terms, that no believing Muslim can be a moderate Muslim.

  • But then, under questioning from Matt Lauer on the Today program, Paladino turns around and says, “My feelings about homosexuality are unequivocal. I have absolutely no problem with it whatsoever,” just as Geller tells the Times that she has “no problem with hijab … no problem with burqa … I don’t care,” and she has also said that she no problem with mosques so long as they’re not within two blocks of Ground Zero.

  • Paladino says, instead, that his only problem with homosexuality is telling young children that it’s equally acceptable with heterosexuality (an example of which, he said, was Andrew Cuomo taking his daughters to a homosexual pride parade, where “men wearing speedos are grinding up against each other”), just as Geller says that her only problem with Islam is the union of Islam with the state.

Lauer’s questions to Paladino, while they all reflected liberal assumptions, were intelligent and fair and stated the issues clearly, and he gave Paladino every chance to explain himself. But the crippling problem for people taking non-liberal positions in liberal society, such as opposing Islamization or opposing the normalization of homosexuality, is that they have no non-liberal vocabulary or set of concepts with which to challenge the liberal position consistently and coherently. So they inevitably end up adopting the liberal position (Paladino even bemoaned the terrible “discrimination” that he says homosexuals face in today’s society), while opposing the homosexual program or the Islamic program in just one particularly egregious or ultimate aspect.

Update and reply to Hesperado: Of course, the union of mosque and state which Geller opposes is the very essence of Islam; Islam in practical terms is the sharia law. But there is much about Islam and the Islamic threat which does not involve the union of mosque and state. Jihad itself does not involve the union of mosque and state, rather it aims at that union and at its dominance over the world. To say that one opposes only the union of mosque and state is to make oneself helpless against the Islamic jihad which leads ultimately to the union of mosque and state. Also, as I said above, if the only thing Geller opposes about Islam is the union of the religion with the state, then what basis does she have to oppose the Ground Zero mosque, or honor killings, or all sorts of things about Islam that do not involve the state?

(On a funny side point, note how Lauer repeatedly pronounces “homosexuality” as “homosexually.”)

- end of initial entry -

N. writes:

Very useful observation. As Orwell pointed out more than once, although “1984” comes to mind, shaping the words people use will shape the thoughts they think. As one reads the statements by both Paladino and Geller on the respective issues, it appears that they are copying the way liberals deploy the unprincipled exception. That is, they are insisting they obey the taboos of society as a rule, but this particular situation requires a reluctant violation of the taboo.

So it is as you say, they are using the language of liberalism, and indeed the style of liberals’ unprincipled exception. No real resistance or reversal can occur so long as we speak and thus think like liberals.

LA replies:

Yes, except that I would not say that either of their positions in these two cases are an unprincipled exception to liberalism. Geller’s position, in fact, simply is a liberal position: separation of religion and state, which she wants to be applied to Islam as much as it has been applied to Western religious denominations.

Meanwhile, Paladino’s position,

I just think my children and your children would be much better off and much more successful getting married and raising a family, and I don’t want them brainwashed into thinking that homosexuality is an equally valid and successful option—it isn’t,

is a principled non-liberal position. He is saying that heterosexuality and homosexuality are not equally good; he is saying that homosexuality is not as good for individuals and society as heterosexuality, and that society’s stated values and practices should reflect this important distinction. So he was taking a genuinely conservative stand on that issue.

My point is that not every isolated exception to liberalism is an unprincipled exception. Yes, I have written that as a general rule the only permitted opposition to liberalism in liberal society takes the form of an unprincipled exception. However, occasionally a conservative will break through the liberal wall and oppose liberalism with a genuine non-liberal principle. But even when he does so, as we see with Paladino on the Today program, he surrounds that non-liberal position with lots of liberal positions, greatly weakening its effect.

To sum up: Opposition to liberalism in liberal society takes the form of exceptions. As a rule, most of these exceptions are unprincipled exceptions, meaning that they are not based on a non-liberal principle that challenges liberal principles such as equality or non-discrimination, but on emotional, pragmatic, non-conceptual notions such as common sense, or “this goes too far,” “everyone opposes this,” or “a mega mosque at Ground Zero is insensitive to the families of the victims.” But occasionally an isolated exception to liberalism is based on an actual non-liberal principle. Therefore we need to examine each exception to see whether it is unprincipled or principled. While the unprincipled exception analysis holds as a general rule, it should not be applied mechanically.

What is the practical side of this? We want principled exceptions to liberalism to become more and more common, so that ultimately conservatism becomes a coherent, anti-liberal philosophy, and not just a bunch of unprincipled exceptions to liberalism. Therefore we should recognize and praise people when they take a principled stand against some aspect of liberalism, even if, as is inevitable under current circumstances, they contradict their principled non-liberal position with lots of liberal positions.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at October 11, 2010 02:07 PM | Send

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