Warning: This Post Contains a Discussion of Public Reason, Which is Just a Theory

Kriston links to a funny sheet of textbook advisory stickers and discusses some matters of public reason.

Which puts me in the mind to say this: You know, I wish that some folks on the left (and I don't mean Kriston or Matt, unless the shoe fits) would be more frank about the fact that they really do seek to use the manifold powers of the state to impose their secular liberal comprehensive conception on the unwilling. (The right seems to be pretty frank about its intentions.)

But, I suppose, if you're really up front about this, then you simply CANNOT pretend to be shocked, shocked when you end up in a cultural-political battle with the right. And you can't be properly surprised and appalled when the right wins, and ends up imposing some of their comprehensive conception on you, because this is exactly what you wanted to do to them, but you lost.

So, if you would just cop to your designs of imposition through the power of the state, then it wouldn't be so grating to me if you went ahead and railed full bore against warning stickers on textbooks and those creationist oafs and whatnot. But please don't ALSO bitch about the fact that public schools are a politicized battleground for competing conceptions of truth and goodness. I mean, I guess it's a cagey bit of rhetoric to pretend that sex ed classes and environmental consciousness-raising units and good old Darwin aren't all part of a scheme to impose your view of the world upon other people's children, so that you can then turn around and scream bloody murder when some zealots wants to put a sticker on a textbook because the textbook doesn't teach what they (as opposed to you) want their children to believe. But, please, be serious.

I think that if you're a political liberal, and sincerely don't want to impose your comprehensive view on people, then you're obliged to support something like vouchers for religious schools, so that you don't end up imposing a secular comprehensive conception by means of crowding out the institutions through which people are able to raise and educate their children as they see fit. If you're not willing to go quite this far, then it seems to me extremely unreasonable to complain about a sticker on a textbook. In fact, I don't think you can complain about the sticker, be against vouchers for religious schools, and claim to be a political liberal all at the same time. If you do, then you're really just an “impositionist” liberal of the first sort who has at least tacitly assented to the principle that those with the political power get to impose their views.

Having endorsed this principle, you should be pretty worried to find yourself on the wrong end of the power, but you shouldn't pretend to be shocked that the right is trying to use its power to at least insulate elements of their comprehensive conceptions from the influence of we atheist, Darwinian liberals. Right?

  • Bill

    “legislation of morality”

    What is law but society’s expression of its definition of good and bad behavior (i.e., morality)? You mean I am not allowed to murder whoever I want? You mean I am not allowed to appropriate any of your property that I desire? I can’t beat my children? You are restricting my freedom with your laws expressing your petty morality!

    • Trouble

      Oh.Come.On. Arguments like this are the major reason why I stopped taking social conservatives seriously.

      These are examples of threats to the public peace, not public morals.

      The purposes of just government are very nicely outlined by Jefferson, in the Declaration of Independence and elsewhere.

  • D

    Brooks writes this same piece every 2 or 3 months. And every 4th piece will be a variation of the theme that involves “networks, decentralized x, human reason has been shown to be flawed, blah blah blah…”

    David is a great writer, but he really needs to get some new ideas.

  • D

    Wait a minute, I just saw the “legislation of morality” part Will wrote.

    Will, criminal law should only be about legislating morality.

    This is one of those bumper sticker comments that gets repeated because it sounds good., but its intent is exactly backwards and ironic.

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