Saturday, July 29, 2017

Be a Reactionary, but Don't Overreact

"Be angry, but do not sin", says Ephesians 4:26.

Similarly, I think we should be reactionary, as I've argued in a recent post, but we shouldn't overreact. And by "overreaction", I'm not so much talking about moderation in reaction, as avoiding reaction in the wrong places.

Here are some areas where I personally think excessive reaction is a danger. Most of them are typical libertarian responses to political correctness.

1) Support free speech, but don't become a free speech absolutist. Taboos and sacred cows are not necessarily bad things. Decency and piety are, in my view, things that shouldn't be challenged-- people should be allowed to challenge them, in certain contexts, but this shouldn't be seen as laudable. The idea that every tradition and every institution should to be constantly challenged at is, in my view, wrong-headed. Consensus is not intrinsically bad.

2) Don't fall into the trap of dismissing identity politics. Identity is important and should play a role in politics. Personally, I think the crucial distinction is the distinction between the identity politics of victimhood and the identity politics of affirmation. But even that distinction is not watertight.

3) Don't be infatuated with meritocracy or the worship of excellence above all else. Meritocracy is important, but it's not all-important. Sometimes it is overridden by other important considerations.

4) Don't dismiss the ideal of equality, and I'm not just talking about equality before the law or equality of opportunity. I mean equality of dignity. This is something quite elusive and, in my view, compatible with all sorts of natural and social distinctions. It's an attitude, and atmosphere, more than anything else.

5) We like to make fun of "special snowflakes", but I don't think we should cease to insist that everybody really is special. At least, I believe this. It doesn't mean anyone should be complacent, entitled, or resentful. It just means everybody in unique, valuable and should never be an object of contempt-- though their actions might well be deserving of contempt.


  1. Yes, I think this is all sensible. Any reaction should be more nuanced and than simply the direct opposite of the opponent, just as tennis is not thwacking the ball straight back over the net the same way it came. Above all I think it is important to know what one is FOR, rather than what one is AGAINST.

    1. Number four is the one I feel most dubious about. I'm really wondering if the concept of equality has any merit at all.

    2. I'd uphold equality of dignity, not least because the Church insists on the absolute, irreducible dignity of all human beings. But I think you could have equality of dignity even in a feudal society.