One notable aspect of the defense of the Ground Zero Mosque is the claim that defending the rights of these Muslims it is part and parcel of living in accord with our traditions of property rights, free speech, and religious freedom. But this is, frankly, the theory of America. Yes, these are important and hoary legal rights. But they were instituted by our Founders and still valued for practical reasons: we value our own right to worship, we do not want our neighbors policing our worship, we do not want to contribute to the worship of others, with which we may disagree, and we do not want the kinds of violent contests over religion that have characterized much of European history. In our past, and even now, there were practical limits on the range of expression of speech or religious freedom owing to our common heritage. Likewise, and with similar practicality, we value democratic institutions because we believe it limits government excess, allows our interests to be filtered through the political process, and prevents the concentration of power in a king or oligarchy. But, we also knew until recently among whom we were living, voting, and choosing representatives and presidents. These were not third world rabble on the whole. We were not going to face violent reactions in either politics or religion if the outcome–conversion or a lost election–were not a desired one. Once again, experience rendered the theory a practical and beneficient one.
But for liberals–whether neoconservative or “out of the closet” left-liberals–the procedures are often valued without regard for their practical outcome. And among left liberals in particular, negative practical outcomes are embraced in the name of theories because these outcomes undermine traditional power structures, habits, and people. Such rhetorical appeals use our honor and contempt for hypocricy as the very means by which our collective happiness will be undermined. Thus, free speech for Muslims is championed while draconian prosecutions for “hate speech” among our peers in Europe and Canada are greeted with indifference. Democracy that yields a ban on gay marriage is struck down by the courts, even as it is championed in Iraq to accomplish Sharia or in South Africa to expropriate property from farmers.
If I may paraphrase something I wrote earlier on Bush’s policies on Iraq: he acted on the assumption that we’re winning in Iraq by turning Iraq into a democracy, but he was mistaken insofar as he believeed “democracy” is a substantive policy outcome and not an interim procedure that could lead to any number of substantive results both for us and the Iraqis.
Procedural schemes in government are justified to the extent they lead to some long-run practical benefit. Procedures and rights are inventions to achieve practical and final ends like safety, commerce, and order. In both foreign and domestic policies, there should be no purely idealistic procedures, if they would likely lead to some abhorrent practical outcome, such as a society’s destruction.
With Bush and his inner circle, the supporters of a deontological and idealistic foreign policy deluded themselves into thinking that they’re the good ones and that their opponents simply lack sufficient commitment to the cause, instead of recognizing that they’re thoroughly ideological in outlook and merely hoping that a positive outcome will result from the unknown nature of Iraqi public opinion as expressed through elections. This was dangerous and irresponsible, considering the stakes.
Similarly, blind supporters of free speech and religious freedom for Muslims in America do not recognize that the lack of commitment to free speech and religious freedom among this subgroup renders that expansion of freedom short-sighted, unwise, and self-destructive in the long-run, or, at the very least, carries some countervailing risks. What good is “religious freedom” that results in subordination to Sharia in the name of a suicidal consistency and unwillingness to look beyond theory to practice and outcomes?
As Burke stated in reference to another self-destructive experiment in consistency, “Government is not made in virtue of natural rights, which may and do exist in total independence of it, and exist in much greater clearness and in a much greater degree of abstract perfection; but their abstract perfection is their practical defect. By having a right to everything they want everything. Government is a contrivance of human wisdom to provide for human wants. Men have a right that these wants should be provided for by this wisdom.” Indeed. While rights and legalities are of high importance, they are not of supreme importance. They are means to an end, and if they clearly do not serve that end because of some changed circumstance, they must be modified, amended, or in some other way adjusted to deal with reality.