Liberalism and dignity

Clark Coleman writes:

Michelle Obama is listed as a guest editor all over a website that might as well be Cosmopolitan magazine, or worse:

Michelle Obama ‘Guest Editor’ for Website
Featuring Sex Tips—Including from Prostitutes

Dignity of office is not a consideration in our culture, although it used to be.

LA replies:

Liberalism is incompatible with dignity, for the same reasons that liberalism is incompatible with all the other substantive values of our civilization (see “The liberal cult of ugliness”). We have a culture that treats Madonna Ciccone as an icon, that treats a soccer player who has mutilated his body with grotesque tattoos as an icon, a culture in which creepy leering ads for erection enhancers are broadcast constantly on mainstream TV and radio, a culture in which none of these things are seriously opposed by anyone, let alone by any respected political, religious, or intellectual figures—and we still expect there to be dignity?

Yes, in our private spheres of life, we can still have dignity. But in today’s public society dignity can persist only as an unprincipled exception to the rule of equal freedom. We live in Sodom.

LA continues:

And I say again: when did we pass the line? As I see it, it happened in 1998-99, when, openly and publicly confronted by a president who had received perverse sexual favors from a young female intern in the Oval Office, thus trashing the very symbol of the presidency and its dignity, and who, in order to extricate himself, ordered one of his lieutenants to spread a false story to the press that the woman had sought to blackmail him, over half the country said that the president’s behavior didn’t matter, because “everyone does it.” At that point, the country as a country decisively broke its connection to objective morality, lost the ability to make moral judgments, and since then everything has continued as it had to continue. Only national repentance, a national turnabout, can save us. And that change of mind (which is what rependance means) will not be led by today’s conservatives and Republicans. See my March 2000 article, “McCain: A Dangerous Man Reflecting the Triumph of Clintonism.”

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Jim Kalb writes:

Liberal dignity means making your own decisions on the grounds that seem good to you. So at most it means authenticity. From the liberal standpoint it would be intensely dignified to be a transvestite prostitute if that truly expresses your self-understanding and outlook on things. It would be a sort of heroism.

August 24

James R. wrote to Jim Kalb:

You wrote:

“Liberal dignity means making your own decisions on the grounds that seem good to you.”

That’s an important recognition but I would modify it slightly:

“Liberal dignity means the ability to make your own decisions on the grounds that seem good to you.”

This is a subtle but important distinction, and is how liberals (such as Rawls, Sen [?], or Nusbaum) treat “dignity”—people’s “dignity” is, in effect, dependent upon other people providing them the means to make their own decisions, and/or not obstructing them. Thus the common phrase in the real world “deny someone their dignity” or “deny dignity to the disabled/poor/”disenfranchised”/”dispossessed.”

Jim Kalb replies to James R.:

You’re right as a philosophical matter. Still, when you’re talking about the First Lady you’re talking about an exemplary figure who should present dignity in its full fruition. So something more active is needed. I think that’s the kind of dignity the post was about.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at August 22, 2012 06:03 PM | Send

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