Do liberals really believe that all desires are equally good?

Jeff W. writes:

I have never really liked Jim Kalb’s description of the liberal agenda:

“[I]f desire is the standard of the good then all desires of all agents are equally desires and equally deserve satisfaction.”

Is this not disproved by liberal opposition to homosexuals who would like to become heterosexuals? See this article in today’s news.

How do you explain that? Liberals are clearly thwarting the desires of certain homosexuals who desire to become heterosexuals.

I have long maintained that the political struggle today is a kind of tribal warfare; liberals are always fighting a battle and they simply do whatever they think will help them win. From that viewpoint, I can easily explain this news item: Homosexuals are one of the ethnic/tribal/gender/identity groups that comprise the liberal coalition. Therefore liberals do not want to see the numbers of homosexuals reduced, and they will also protect their homosexual allies by attacking anyone who might insult them by saying their behavior is abnormal, perverted or sinful, or should be changed.

How would you explain this news item using Kalb’s description of the liberal agenda?

LA replies:

Mr. Kalb has dealt with that seeming paradox from the start. It’s one of the great points in his 2000 essay “The Tyranny of Liberalism.” Liberalism says that there is no moral truth that should have authority over us, and therefore that people should be equally free to pursue their various desires. But what if the thing that people desire is the good? Liberalism will not allow THAT desire, because if you desire the good, that means you will not treat all desires as equal.

It would be the same with the desire of a person to cease being homosexual. To desire to cease being homosexual implies that homosexuality is not good and that heterosexuality is good or better. Which means that not all desires are equally good. Therefore the desire not to be homosexual cannot be honored.

Thus liberalism says that all desires are equally good, except for those desires which imply that all desires are NOT equally good. Such desires are prohibited or at least disapproved.

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Jim Kalb writes:

The way I’d put it now is to say that all desires are equal, subject to the coherence and efficient functioning of the liberal system itself. So when desires conflict liberals favor self-regarding desires that are easy to manage and satisfy without conflict, and also desires that are at odds with residual non-liberal authorities like religion or particular cultural tradition.

So careerism, consumerism, and safe recreational sex are good, that’s what they teach in the schools and on TV, while (non-sexual) adventure and chastity is bad.

Alan Roebuck writes:

Excellent post. To summarize: Anything goes, except saying that it’s not true that anything goes.

Thanks for carrying on the fight.

Daniel F. writes:

I generally agree with your response to Jeff W., but it seems to me that liberals do sometimes endorse desires implying that not all desires are equally good. Specifically, liberals veritably celebrate the desire of Muslims to conform their behavior to Islamic law, which does involve the suppression of some desires—often the same desires (such as homosexuality) condemned by Christianity or traditional Western morality. Thus, it’s only hierarchies of desires created by Western belief systems (or what are perceived as “Western” belief systems) to which contemporary liberals object. [LA replies: Muslims’ desire to follow and enforce the Islamic moral code is the expression of an oppressed people whose empowerment not only promises to weaken the West’s own traditional idea of the good, but to destroy the West itself. Therefore Muslims’ desire for the Muslim moral good does not threaten the liberal campaign to topple the moral good, and therefore it is welcomed.]

It should also be added (and I think this is consistent with what I have read of Jim Kalb) that key to contemporary liberalism is the belief, not only that all desires are equally good (a belief that libertarians seem to share), but that, insofar as possible, everybody should have an equal opportunity to satisfy his desires. Thus, any desire to excel and rise above others generally (particularly in the economic realm) is basically seen as bad, and something that should be hemmed in and discouraged, although things have not proceeded to the extent that people are completely prevented from acting on such desires.

Of course, as Mr. Kalb also says, to have a society where all desires are officially of equal worth, and the equality of opportunity to satisfy desires is maximized, requires a very powerful hierarchy of judges, politicians, bureaucrats, educators, “experts,” professional associations, etc., to suppress action, and sometimes even speech, based on disfavored traditional views.

Dave T. writes:

I am of the opinion that the leftist system can be more simply described as always fanning the flames of those desires that spring forth from our natural well of wickedness while incessantly trying to discourage, if not suppress, that which is good insofar as it cannot be co-opted for the benefit of its evil schemes. I would go so far to say that the driving force of the left is essentially demonic and that those who politically align themselves with its cause have been deceived into working toward their own destruction, which is, of course, always the goal of the demonic. The destruction of God’s creation.

So, I must politely register my disagreement with Mr. Kalb on this matter. From my vantage point, the left is better understood from an esoteric perspective rather than a rational one.

LA replies:

It’s funny (synchronicitous) that you should say that. Just a half hour ago I was talking with a friend who said exactly what you said: that the left is so evil and destructive it must be the product of a conscious entity who is deliberately fanning the evil. I replied that according to St. Augustine, evil is not real, it has no real existence; it is only the rejection of or the turning away from the good.

Perhaps the answer is that evil can be deliberate and organized (perhaps even by a demonic entity), as you say; but at the same time the evil is not real. It is a war against the real.

Kristor writes:

You reply to a commenter:

Perhaps the answer is that evil can be deliberate and organized (perhaps even by a demonic entity), as you say; but at the same time the evil is not real. It is a war against the real.

The resolution is to be found in the fact that to the extent a thing exists, it possesses at least the goodness of such actuality as it has, together with such powers, virtues and beauties as it has not yet destroyed in itself. So, e.g., Hitler had a wonderfully good mind and body, but much less good than if he had devoted himself to goodness. Ditto for Satan. He is the very Prince of Darkness, yet he still retains many of the brilliant powers he had before he fell from Heaven. This is what makes him such a dangerous adversary. He is even beautiful in his way; therein lies his power to tempt.

The supreme degree of evil Satan expresses by virtue of such virtues as he still has is a measure of the severity of his loss of power, beauty, and actuality at his fall. When creatures direct their God-given powers to evil purposes—purposes other than what God has purposed for them—they diminish their very being. But they cannot be perfectly evil without extinguishing even the good of their mere existence.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at November 29, 2012 02:47 PM | Send

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