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Holier Than Thou, You Punk


Those seeking to abolish the death penalty hold a minority position in this country, and it is  --  as publicly debated issues go  --  not much of a minority.  The Gallup poll puts public support for abolitionism at 30% or slightly less; in California, the Field poll finds abolitionism even less popular, attracting a bit less than 25% support.

This does not stop abolitionists from claiming The Greater Wisdom, and doing so in indignant if not outraged terms.  I have debated this subject many times and in many fora, and it's surprising how often otherwise thoughtful and civil people are willing to attack the retentionist position with words like barbaric, racist and ignorant:  "If only the unwashed masses knew what we experts know."  It's also surprising, to me at least, how often otherwise insistently secular people are willing to use religion to bully their way to the supposed moral high ground.

I thus had a strong deja vu feeling when I read a piece in today's Wall Street Journal noting the contempt, if not venom, that has surfaced in the vocabulary of progressivism.  The article is about the recent debate on raising the debt ceiling, which is hardly the subject of this blog.  But if you substitute the word "retentionist" for "conservative," and "abolitionist" for "progressive," the piece is a dead ringer description of the snarling, holier-than-thou attitude of an increasing number of death penalty opponents.

Given their thoroughly outmanned position, one might think modesty to be a more becoming attitude than belligerence.  Would that they thought so too.     

These concluding paragraphs are the ones that particularly struck me:

The evident panic of the progressive mind stems from a paradox as old as progressivism in America. Progressives see themselves as the only legitimate representatives of ordinary people. Yet their vision of what democracy requires frequently conflicts with what majorities believe and how they choose to live.

Add to this the progressive belief that human beings can be perfected through the rule of experts, and you have a recipe--when the people make choices contrary to progressive dictates--for generating contempt among the experts for the people whose interests they claim to alone represent. And not just contempt, but even disgust at diversity of opinion, which from the progressive's perspective distracts the people from the policies demanded by impartial reason.

The progressive mind is on a collision course with itself. The clash between its democratic pretensions and its authoritarian predilections has generated within its ranks seething resentment for, and rage at, conservatives. Unless progressives cultivate the enlightened virtues they publicly profess and free themselves from the dogmatic beliefs that undergird their political ambitions, we can expect even more harrowing outbursts to come.

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