Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Being left—and being left alone

Patrick Kurp, who is rapidly becoming my favorite literary blogger, has a quietly devastating post up at Anecdotal Evidence this morning, arguing that “the most precious right, though not formally articulated in the Bill of Rights, is the right to be left alone.”

Kurp quotes the late Michael Crichton in landing his hardest cross: those who “want to tell other people how to behave” harbor a “deep and secret impulse to live in a totalitarian state.”

Part of me always believed that, I guess, and shied from the conclusion. But Kurp and Crichton are right, aren’t they? What else, after all, is the impulse to correct other people’s behavior (and, especially, their speech) than an effort to impose uniformity of opinion—by social shame, if possible; by main force, if necessary.

The allure of a totalitarian regime is that it relieves me of the responsibility of individual judgment. I know in advance what to think. I am supplied with a formal apparatus for correcting my own opinions—and those of others. As Kingsley Amis put it, I get the satisfaction of “swimming with and against the stream at the same time, of being both rebel and conformist, of joining in the massed choir of half a million voices crying in the wilderness.”

Of course, Amis made it clear that this is the “wonderful and unique and paradoxical satisfaction which the Left offers. . . .” The totalitarianism of contemporary opinion is found mainly on the self-congratulatory “secular, progressive, feminist, anti-racist, and anti-imperialist left.” For the Left has solved the problem that all totalitarian regimes face: namely, how to make uniformity of opinion attractive. The solution? To create an idealized image of the best people, and how they behave; and to offer surcease from being left alone. No one ever need be lonely if he can see himself, if only in imagination, as standing with the best people.


Anonymous said...

I think that it is disingenuous or at least willfully blind to suggest that it is the left that will not let people alone.

Who would constrain the choices of women when faced with an unwanted and risky pregnancy?

Who would tell adults who they can and can't rightfully love and marry?

Who opposes rationalization of drug policies that most demonstrably DO NOT leave alone those who are minding their own business?

Who gets apploplectic when people insist that their children be left alone to not pray in school?

These decidedly un-libertarian interferences are the purview, almost exclusively, of the (largely benighted) right.

D. G. Myers said...

Dear anonymous,

Please see my comment below on the principle of self-evidence. For the abortion issue can be read both ways. To adopt your language, who refuses to leave the baby alone in the womb?

Your other issues are stated with equal tendentiousness. No conservative proposes interfering in the love and happiness of gay couples. Some conservatives argue simply that gays should leave alone the ancient and universal conception of marriage, and seek love and happiness in their own way, on their own, without demanding recognition and approval from the entire society.

Conservatives are split on the legalization of drugs, especially marijuana. Several National Review writers, for example, are in favor of legalizing marijuana. Not that you would know that, since your image of conservatives is a parody of the real thing.

Finally: school prayer. I am an Orthodox Jew. My boys need a minyan to pray. I don’t want public schools substituting a different conception of prayer. Does that make me a leftist?